Drunk with Power, Consumed by a Cult

by Andrew Stuttaford

Let’s get the necessary disclaimers out of the way. Cigarette butts should be disposed of properly. Treating them as litter seems reasonable to me. But (so to speak), there’s litter and there’s litter, and a new Illinois law seems to be—to put it mildly— an overreaction.

The  (right-leaning) Illinois Policy Institute reports:

On Jan. 1, an update to Illinois’ Litter Control Act will subject anyone who tosses a cigarette on the ground to increased penalties – the first offense now comes with  a Class B misdemeanor and a fine up to $1,500.The second time offense becomes a Class A misdemeanor, and the third time, it’s a felony that can come with a one-to-three year jail sentence and a $25,000 fine.

A felony? Yes.  A jail-sentence. Yes. A sense of proportion? No.

Thank heavens the prisons are empty and that jail time comes cheap for taxpayers!

In part, of course, this poisonous mix of extravagance, stupidity and bullying is a hallmark of a political class that is losing any remaining notion of self-restraint (needless to say, the measure received some Republican support too).

It’s also something else. While littered cigarette-ends are unsightly, and can be something of an environmental nuisance (quite significantly so in certain cases and concentrations), they are also all too visible evidence of the fact that, well, someone has dared to smoke. And anything, however remotely (consider the upcoming New York City ban on e-cigarettes, imposed partly because of the allegedly perilous resemblance that e-cigs bear to the real thing) connected with the anathematized act of smoking has to be cracked down upon, and cracked down upon hard. That antisocially discarded cigarette butt is an unsightly, environmentally unhelpful piece of litter, sure, but worse than that, it is a symbol of disobedience.  And that will not do.

In an earlier piece on e-cigarettes, I wrote this:

The campaign against tobacco began with the best of intentions, but it has long since degenerated into an instrument for its activists both to order others around and to display their own virtue. And with that comes an insistence on a rejection of tobacco so absolute, so pure, that it has become detached from any logic other than the logic of control, the classic hallmark of a cult.

Yup, a cult.

Oh, there’s one other thing:

[T] Act forces private property owners to furnish trash receptacles in places where littering is illegal. After a warning, the property owner must provide the trash cans within 10 days or face a daily fine of $25 and a petty misdemeanor.

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