PORTLAND, Maine — Flicking a cigarette butt into a Portland gutter can cost a person $100.

The City Council on Monday night unanimously passed an amendment to the litter ordinance clarifying that dropping cigarette butts on city property — including streets, sidewalks, parks, alleys and gutters — is littering and can be fined accordingly.

The move came about in response to concerns expressed by members of Portland’s Downtown District and its executive director, Jan Beitzer.

“She said the No. 1 complaint she gets from visitors and businesspeople is the prevalence of cigarette butts in the downtown,” Councilor John Anton told his fellow councilors Monday night.

Anton said studies have shown a third of all garbage nationally consists of cigarette butts, and pointed out that the city of San Francisco has put a 20-cent surcharge on each pack of cigarettes sold to cover the costs of cleanup.

One resident urged the council to vote against the ordinance amendment, as Nancy Page Akers described the move as a slippery slope toward a Big Brother-like future of secret police cameras watching smokers and DNA testing of discarded butts to chase down culprits.

Akers called the implementation of fines “heavy handed” and “government intimidation.”

Fellow Portland resident Robert Haines said he simply felt it would be hard to enforce.

“It’s a good intention and I like the idea, but as a practical matter, I think it would be impossible to make it work,” he told the council.

But others supported the littering clarification and asked that it be part of a more thorough anti-cigarette campaign. Roseanne Graef, head of the West End Neighborhood Association, said neighborhood groups should be included in the downtown’s plans to heighten awareness about proper cigarette butt disposal.

Councilors Anton and Ed Suslovic agreed that the fines, as an initial deterrent, would be part of a larger citywide effort.

“Simply passing an ordinance is not going to solve the problem,” Suslovic acknowledged. “But in my lifetime, littering of all kinds was considered acceptable. People used to throw trash out the windows of their cars. … My hope is, over time, just like we’ve seen positive trends with other types of litter, we’ll see a positive trend with cigarette butts as well.”

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.