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Flicking cigarette butt out car window a real fire danger and environmental risk: EPA, fire and rescue services say

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27 Feb 2019
Smoking is a costly habit. But flicking your cigarette butt out the car window can prove even more costly when an Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) littering infringement notice arrives in the mail.

With Victoria’s fire danger period projected to continue into May, EPA, Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Country Fire Authority are calling for cigarette butt litterers to check their habit, and for members of the community to report this kind of littering.

Given that most human-cause fire incidents in Victoria are caused by lit cigarette butts, the potential cost to the community and environment is extreme.

“EPA counts on members of the public to report people who flick their butts out of car windows,” said EPA CEO Dr Cathy Wilkinson.

“Flicking lit cigarettes out your car window is a serious fire hazard, as recent fire tragedies across our state have shown.

“And cigarette butt litter pollutes our roadsides and chokes our waterways,” Dr Wilkinson said.

The MFB and CFA regularly attend to fires caused by cigarettes, and some of Victoria’s worst bushfire tragedies were sparked by cigarette butt litter.

MFB Chief Officer Dan Stephens said that firefighters respond to more than 10 fires caused by carelessly discarded smoking materials every month across the Melbourne metropolitan district alone.

 “Careless disposal of smoking materials can quickly start a fire, especially in a high-risk area such as on a balcony, in a street bin or near grass and parklands.

“It doesn’t have to be a hot or windy day for a fire to spread quickly and cause substantial damage. 

“Smokers must fully extinguish smoking materials and dispose of them in heavy, high-sided ashtrays to avoid starting a fire,” Mr Stephens said.

CFA Chief Officer Steve Warrington said roadside fires pose a “significant danger to drivers not only from smoke, but flames or falling burning trees or branches, and there’s high potential for tragic consequences.”

Mr Warrington said more than half of Victorian bushfires are deliberately lit or caused by reckless behaviour.

“One of the most common causes is inappropriately disposing of cigarette butts.

“Recklessly caused fires are often viewed by the community as accidental, but in reality, the potential for injury, loss of life, property damage and drain on resources is the same as that caused by arson.” Mr Warrington said.

Last financial year, EPA handed out over $5 million in fines to more than 11,000 Victorians for discarding litter, mostly cigarette butts, from their vehicles.

Dr Wilkinson said that EPA’s litter reporting program works to curb cigarette butt littering, with fines and enforcement actions undertaken through the courts “sending a clear message that this kind of mindless behaviour will have real consequences.”

EPA litter fines range from $322 for a small piece of rubbish or unlit cigarette up to $645 for a lit cigarette. 

Individuals issued with a litter fine have the right to request that EPA review the matter or to have it determined in court.

Report littering

People can report littering via EPA’s website, through its smartphone litter app, or by calling 1300 EPA VIC (1300 372 842). 

Provide EPA with the following information when reporting:

1.     Who? Car details, registration number, colour, whether it was the driver or passenger, gender of litterer.

2.     What? Lit or unlit cigarette or a description of the litter item.

3.     When? Exact time and date of offence.

4.     Where? Where was the car, what road was it travelling on, in which suburb? What intersection was closest?

5.     How? How was the litter deposited – was it thrown from vehicle, dropped before exiting vehicle or dropped before getting into a car?

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