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CNN Today

Maine Representative Joseph Brooks Pushes for Returnable- Tobacco Bill

Aired February 21, 2001 - 2:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, between smoke-free environments and new taxes on tobacco, smokers may feel a bit under siege. In the state of Maine, a new fire is being lit under smokers and litterers. It is called the Returnable Butt Bill.

Well, joining us -- cigarette-butt bill, did you like that?

Joining us on the phone now to explain it, the bill sponsor, Maine Representative Joseph Brooks.

Representative Brooks, I know that you've had to defend your returnable butt bill. And you've said, hey, it's no joke, this is my idea. Tell us about it.

JOSEPH BROOKS (D), MAINE STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, up until yesterday it seemed to be that people would come up with all these one liners, and I have the object of much of it. But I think that now people are beginning to turn, particularly the committee that heard it yesterday in public hearing. We're getting a lot of in sentiment in the legislature now. And I frankly refer to it as the Returnable Tobacco Bill.

We've had a returnable bottle bill here and container bill here for years; it's patterned after that. I think it's workable. I think it'll happen.

ALLEN: I was reading that somebody who supports the idea recently said that students picked up 10,500 cigarette butts in one town. So I guess news like that has made people stand up and take notice.

BROOKS: Oh, absolutely. I think what happened over the course of the past several years, and probably not just in Maine, is that we're continuing to restrict where people can smoke. You can't smoke in restaurants, you can't smoke in public buildings, you can't smoke in apartment houses. Where is it going to stop?

Well, what's happening is that smokers are now being relegated to those sidewalks and parking lot areas -- they're just dropping their cigarettes. Even if you put a container out there, the butt container, if you will, they just shoot at it and not in it. So we're being faced with lots and lots of litter. It is estimated that somewhere between 85 and 90 percent of the cigarettes that are sold in Maine -- we're talking millions, possibly billions a year -- that 90 percent of them are filtered cigarettes.

Now if you think about what's in a filter, plastic that's creating that filter is not biodegradable. So they're hanging around for years. They're being ingested by birds and wild animals, and if you do it in the lakes they're going into fish.

And we have some scientific studies to show that this can actually be very damaging to wildlife.

It's time now that we make cigarette smokers be responsible for what they're doing in the way of litter.

ALLEN: It's a good thing for everyone to hear. Pick up after yourselves.

BROOKS: We've done it with other litter. I mean, almost every state now has a very high, significant fine for littering. We do in the state of Maine. $250 fine if you're caught littering. And that means throwing something out of your vehicle. But how often do we see policemen or anybody else stop a vehicle for flicking a butt out the window?

ALLEN: Not -- I've never seen it.

BROOKS: No, and I never will either. And so, what we're talking about is about 25 percent of the people of Maine smoke. Only about 10 percent, it's estimated, are the ones who are contributing to the litter, although it's by the thousands. If that 10 percent is willing to be responsible for discarding their cigarettes appropriately, they get their money back.

It's only a surcharge. It's like a returnable bottle. You pay a nickel on the Pepsi or whatever you buy. You bring the container back, we'll give you back your nickel. The same thing will happen with cigarettes.

ALLEN: Well, you -- you certainly sell it well and good luck selling it to the legislature. We'll wait and see what they do with it. Thank you so much for joining us.

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