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The first two strikes for smokers caught littering butts will result in misdemeanor charges — get caught again and it could mean felony jail time. But what many don’t know is this law has existed since 1974 regardless of a recent amendment.
Everyone has heard of “Click-it or Ticket.” But how about: “Flick it and go to jail for a year”?
An amendment to Illinois’ Litter Control Act that included the word “cigarettes” into its definition of litter went into effect Jan. 1.
The change means a person convicted three times of flicking a cigarette butt out a car window or into anything other than an outdoor ashtray or waste can could face a Class 4 felony with up to a $25,000 fine and 1-3 years in prison.
The new law has prompted smokers and non-smokers alike to question the amendment’s severity and importance.
But what many don’t know is that technically the law and strict penalties have been in place since 1974.
“This law has always been up to the officer’s discretion to decide what is litter which is why there were ‘no’ votes on the amendment,” said State Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley). “I voted no because it’s always been the officer’s discretion. The only change is in the definition which adds the word ‘cigarettes.’”
According to the act, litter is defined as “any discarded, used or unconsumed substance or waste.” The act then lists examples of what might be included. Some of those examples include common household trash, grass clippings, an abandoned vehicle or the carcass of a dead animal. On Jan. 1, cigarettes were added to the list of examples.
Mautino said what many people weren’t aware of is a caveat in the law that allows police officers to determine whether a cigarette butt or anything else meets the definition of “unsightly or unsanitary” in nature and whether or not it was properly discarded.
Therefore, the law has stated since 1974 that an Illinois resident could face felony charges if convicted three times of any littering regardless of whether it’s an apple core or cigarette butt.
La Salle County state’s attorney Brian Towne said he doesn’t foresee sending many people to prison for flicking their butts out the car window.
“While the law allows a third offense to carry a prison option, I and my staff would have to look very seriously at the circumstances — and very seriously at the offender — before opting for prison,” Towne said. “If the reincarnation of Al Capone were to flick his cigarette butt, you can bet I’d seek prison if it would mean keeping our streets safer. Short of that, I think we’d exercise a lot of discretion.”
Still, the amended law has made for interesting water cooler talk and has raised awareness about littering violations.
Granville resident Joe Yochum often rides his motorcycle to work or for road trips during warm months. Consequently, he’s no stranger to occasionally catching a motorists’ cigarette butt or ashes in his face.
But even with his annoyance for what he calls “ignorant automobile drivers” he said the law was a waste of lawmakers’ time.
“Having been a motorcycle rider my entire life and having had cigarettes butts and flying ashes flicked on me several times from ignorant automobile drivers, I personally agree that it is wrong,” he said. “Do we really need a law to define cigarette butts as litter? They are obviously litter and we don’t need politicians to pass laws like this when they should be working on legitimate important legislation.”