OK, so who decided that the world can be used as an ashtray? Where is it written that cigarette butts don't count as litter, and feel free to flick them where you want?

They're everywhere. In the grass around the local 7-Eleven. On roadsides and sidewalks. Parks. Golf courses. Bus stops. Flying out car windows on the freeway.

Ask Hector Delavega. He's in charge of grounds maintenance at the Delta Center. After every Jazz game or monster truck rally or ZZ Top concert, the first thing Hector does the next morning is pick up butts.

"There are jillions of them," he says. "It turns my stomach inside out — that smell in the morning. It makes you not want to eat again. People come outside during halftime for a smoke and throw the butts everywhere. They're not just at the exits and entrances, they're in the ivy and the trees and the grass. It's preposterous. By the end of the (NBA) season, I could make a mountain out of them."

There are so many of them that Hector uses a leaf blower to blow them into piles. He wears gloves to put them in a bag. "My hands still smell," he says. "It penetrates the gloves."

Ashtrays? Yes, there are, and thanks for asking.

"They don't like to use them," says Hector. "They like to throw them down and stomp on them."

Bob Burgess sees the same thing. He's district supervisor for Salt Lake City parks. "We see a lot of it," he says. "Ninety-nine percent of smokers don't see that as litter. You see them (butts) on the steps of the City-County Building — it's the last thing they do before they go in the door. We have people pull up in parks and empty their ashtrays."

By the way, Burgess and Delavega are both ex-smokers.

Look, I don't want to pick a fight here. Yes, I do. What is it with you people? Everybody talks about secondhand smoke and lung cancer and yellow teeth and bad breath. What about the mess that smokers make?

In Singapore, eight out of every 10 people sentenced to corrective work orders for littering are smokers. In Oregon, lawmakers are considering a proposal to place another warning on cigarette packs: "Littering is illegal and ill-mannered." In Maine, there was a proposal to charge a 5-cent deposit for each cigarette, refundable upon return of the butt. In Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass., where beaches have become an ashtray, they've considered banning smoking on the beaches.

In Sydney, the City Council was warned by an environmental research firm a few months ago that cigarette butts are one of the worst environmental problems facing the city.

The research also revealed: More than half of all litter items are cigarette butts. The number of ashtrays is not a factor in butt litter. Four out of five people observed littering cigarettes said they did not consider them to be litter. When asked why they littered, the most frequent response was laziness.

Cigarette butts are a nuisance and an eyesore and a hazard. Who knows how many forest fires they start? Know why they stopped public tours of the U.S. Capitol for about an hour last summer? Because some moron threw a lighted cigarette butt down a ventilation shaft, sending smoke into the rotunda.

A Florida woman was thrown in jail for 16 hours after she was caught throwing a lighted cigarette out her car window. My take: She got off easy. In Sydney, there's a $60 fine for littering stubbed-out cigarette butts and a $200 fine for littering lit butts. That's too good for them, too.

"I was caught throwing a cigarette butt when I was in the Army," says Burgess. "They made me dig a 4-foot-by-4-foot-by-4-foot hole to bury it in. I never threw another one."


Doug Robinson's column appears on Tuesdays. Please send e-mail to drob@desnews.com.