Undoubtedly, this is a problem. Cigarette butts cause all sorts of problems, choking the environment, waterways, just about any paved surface you care to walk on. I helped clean a riverside picnic and swimming area as part of Clean Up Australia Day earlier on in the year, and there's no disputing that cigarette butts were the major item collected. Other rubbish may have filled the bag more quickly, but the ratio of butts to other rubbish was at the very least ten to one - probably more.
There isn't any excuse for thoughtlessly throwing butts onto the ground, but bins aren't always around. This is something I've been noticing more and more of late - you can walk for blocks in many cities I've wandered around, and there's a distinct lack of bins. Of course, this isn't just a problem for smokers disposing of their butts, but for anyone who has rubbish they need to get rid of. I don't really understand why bins aren't more plentiful - I can't see an excuse for not having them all over the place, especially in a city. How many parking lots contain rubbish bins? Surely it's cheaper for someone to empty a bin, than to collect scattered rubbish. If people are unwilling to carry their rubbish to the nearest bin if it's some distance away, then reduce that distance. It may not be a solution that appeals to people's idealistic views, but I think it's a more realistic solution than trying to change people's habits.
Of course, you can't have bins everywhere that people smoke. It's often in the areas that bins are less plentiful, that butts discarded on the ground can do the most damage. Bushland areas, beaches, rivers - they all suffer from dropped butts. A beautiful, white sand beach is far less attractive when it's covered in rubbish bins. On the other hand, taking your kids to build sand castles on that beach is much less appealing when each bucket of sand contains half a dozen cigarette butts.
The best solution I have heard to this problem, is incredibly simple, and pretty much hassle free. It relies on the smoker taking some responsibility for their own actions, but at least they have an easy option when there are no bins around. All it involves, is an empty film canister. Small enough to be carried around and not get in the way, coming with its own tightly sealing lid, this item is just the right size to carry your finished butts until a bin is handy. Just stub them out, and pop them in the canister. Not only will the canister ensure that any ash isn't going to escape, it will contain the odour as well.
There's no reason not to carry something like this in your car either. While driving, there's an easy way to put out your cigarette quickly and completely. Just hold the butt out the window for a short time, and let the wind blow it out. This is much safer than throwing out the entire butt - the wind blows the ash off the cigarette gradually, rather than having an entire wad of tobacco smouldering away, ready to burn surrounding grass. Once all the tobacco has blown out, you're just left with the foam butt. In the canister it goes, ready for throwing out later on.
And I can't help but wonder - why has cigarette butt technology not progressed at the rate of other non-biodegradable items? Many other items that won't break down, and cause litter problems, have a biodegradable alternative. However I've never seen a biodegradable cigarette butt (apart from the filterless rolly of course). Surely there must be an alternative to what's currently used? Is foam the only material that can do the job? I don't really know what could be used in its stead, but I can't help but wonder why when discarded butts are such a problem for everyone, nobody's come up with a better solution. Here's hoping that someone will manage to come up with something, and this problem will be a thing of the past.
I was pleased to see while at Splendour In The Grass, a music festival in lovely Byron Bay, that there were hundreds of film canisters available for a voluntary donation. These things should be made available everywhere, especially places where large groups of people congregate. I'd love to see a big tub of them at every beach