Public service announcement for cigarette smokers: Many of your number willfully create an incredibly negative image.

While I detest tobacco and its disastrous effects on society, I also possess considerable compassion for the restraints we’ve placed on smokers. Not that I want to return to the days when every cafe and office is filled with smoke, but I simply feel bad you have to stand out in freezing rain in order to get your fix.

Like most of you, I wish you had never started, but I understand it is tough to quit. (As a side note, if you do smoke and wish you didn’t, tell every youngster you can just how much you hate it, why it’s bad and that you wish you’d never began; that’s where the battle must be fought.)

Back to the negative image.

It’s not folks huddled around puffing on cigarettes I’m speaking of. It’s not even stealing a smoke in an area not designated for smoking, even though that certainly doesn’t help.

What I’m talking about is the often thoughtless act that occurs after you’ve sucked in that final bit of nicotine-laden smoke.

My summer adventure job this year is working as a “park sweep” at Darien Lake Amusement Park in western New York. I’m one of a large crew of people whose purpose is simply to keep the park clean, attractive and safe. We actually do it quite well. Most of my job is sweeping up trash and, yes, cigarette butts.

Trash in general can send a bad message about people, particularly when someone eats a plate of nachos and abandons the leftovers, plate, napkins and cup on a bench. Most trash, though, is more of an accidental nature, abetted by the wind. We also sweep up a lot of leaves and such and will squeegee water puddles after rain to accelerate evaporation and drainage.

When sweeping, I target every piece of litter I can, with an emphasis on cigarette remains. I know a lot of people find the mere presence of a cigarette butt to be more disturbing than most any other piece of trash. Doing so, I believe I’ve learned a bit about smokers.

First of all, let me tell you our park – which while large isn’t exactly huge – has 10 different designated smoking sections. Mostly, they are bump-out areas on a walkway, near trees and not next to other gathering places. Bottom line, a smoker is never very far from such an area and many people abide by the request they smoke there.

That’s not good enough for a large number, though. I find cigarette butts all over the place … and I do mean all over.

Many folks will simply drop them on the midway. It may sound funny, but that makes my job easier. If it’s out there where I’m walking, it’s easy to spot and a breeze to sweep up.

But there are those who apparently feel the need to hide their transgression.

A most popular spot is in the raised flower beds immediately behind the benches that surround them. A person takes a load off, fires up a smoke and, when finished, reaches back and snuffs it out in the dirt, often nestling it up directly behind the seat so it cannot be easily spotted.

Those I sometimes can sweep up with my short-handled broom and butler (a new term for me, by the way, used for the dustpan on a handle), but I often must resort to digging them out with my fingers. Yeah, yucky.
And then there are the folks who feel the need to separate from the evidence by flicking the cigarette butt way up into the flower bed or some other area. Worst are those who do so beyond a fence into a ride area that’s not easy to get to.

No, I take that back.

The worst are those who do smoke in the smoking area, which is provided with one of those butt disposal devices, but instead of putting the remains in there will drop it on the ground (often underneath the bench) or stick it in the flower bed.

Like I said, this is a public relations issue for smokers. I hope the mess I see is the result of only a small percentage of smokers, but they make everyone look guilty.

The solution? Sorry, but I have no idea. Actually, I think part of the problem might be many of them are rebelling against all of the constraints society tries to place on them. Nope, anything to help alleviate this PR problem will have to come from smokers themselves and even then I doubt it would be easy.

Now, can we talk about people who throw bubble gum onto the midway?

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