Smoking related litter roundtable meeting, 2 Sep 2020

Published 28 September 2020


  • Rupert Lewis (Director – Tobacco Manufacturer’s Association)
  • Jamie Sanders (Fiscal and Regulatory Affairs Manager – Japan Tobacco International UK)
  • Charlie Cunningham-Reid (Vice President Corporate Affairs – Japan Tobacco International UK)
  • Lindsay Mennell-Keating (Senior UK Government Affairs Manager, Corporate and Legal Affairs – Imperial Tobacco Limited)
  • Richard McIlwain (Deputy Chief Executive – Keep Britain Tidy)
  • Nathan Jones (Head of Government and Corporate Affairs – British American Tobacco)
  • Adam Smiley (Government Affairs Manager, UK – British American Tobacco)
  • Charles Allen (Government Affairs Manager – Philip Morris International)
  • Chris Preston (Deputy Director, Resources and Waste – Defra)


  • Deborah Arnott (Chief Executive – ASH (Action on Smoking and Health))
  • DHSC official (Tobacco Control Policy)

Other Defra officials were also present.

Statement on WHO framework convention on tobacco control (Minister Pow)

After welcoming all parties, Minister Pow read the following statement:

In order to comply with the Litter Strategy for England, UK Tobacco Control Policy and our international legal obligations under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), this meeting will relate only to environmental policy and not public health policy, and will follow the recommendations in the FCTC guidelines. Therefore, at this meeting, we will not agree a partnership with the industry, including accepting any financial or educational contribution on behalf of the department; promote, or offer the tobacco industry any opportunity to promote themselves publicly through claims of social responsibility or similar; or give preferential treatment to the tobacco industry.

Representatives from the Department of Health and Social Care, and Action on Smoking and Health have been invited as witnesses to ensure transparency. Attendees have been informed prior to today that we are meeting on the understanding that no party will use this roundtable as an opportunity to promote their organisational interests, this includes but is not limited to posts on social media, press notices or interviews. In accordance with the FCTC guidelines on transparency, notes from this meeting will be made publicly available on GOV.UK as a factual account of what has been discussed.

Opening remarks (Minister Pow)

Minister Pow went on to make the following opening remarks:

In the 2017 Litter Strategy the government explained that the most effective way to tackle smoking related litter is by reducing the prevalence of smoking in society. Smoking cessation and tobacco control are matters of public health policy for DHSC and are not in scope of this conversation.

Despite smoking rates in England being at their lowest recorded level, cigarette butts continue to be the most commonly littered item in England. Defra’s latest litter composition study, carried out by Keep Britain Tidy (KBT), found on average that of every 100 littered items, 66 were cigarette butts and 2 were other smoking related litter.

Scientific evidence of the harm cigarette filters cause to animals, plants and marine life was presented at the recent Tidy Britain All Party Parliamentary Group which the Minister attended. She remarked that as well as being made of plastic which persists for years in the environment and breaks down into thousands of polymers, smoked cigarette filters contain many toxic chemicals. The Minister explained it is her position and duty as Minister for the Environment to address this environmental concern.

Smoking related litter is difficult and costly for local authorities to clean up.

At the Select Committee Inquiry on litter and fly-tipping in 2015, the Tobacco Manufacturer’s Association gave public commitments to provide free ashtrays at the point of sale and to fund the provision of specific litter bins that include ashtrays (while complying with restrictions on the advertising of tobacco products). The Minister said that her officials had asked for a written update on these commitments in 2018, which was not received, and said that surveys suggest that smoking related litter has actually increased by more than 5% since these commitments were made in 2015.

Keep Britain Tidy had informed Defra that the total annual investment from the tobacco industry on litter is only £70k from one tobacco product producer and that is compared to estimated annual profits across the industry of more than £1 billion.

It was disappointing that when presented with an opportunity to make a significant contribution through a voluntary producer responsibility scheme, it seemed that the industry had effectively declined.

In light of the government’s commitment to the polluter pays principle, the lack of serious investment by the industry to clear up the mess caused by its products could not continue and they must be held to account.

The Minister wished to understand what is preventing the tobacco industry from working with organisations independent of government, such as Keep Britain Tidy, to tackle this problem.

Keep Britain Tidy voluntary EPR proposal (Richard McIlwain - Keep Britain Tidy)

Richard McIlwain thanked the Minister for her summary and made the following points:

Keep Britain Tidy (KBT) surveys of litter show that smoking related litter and on-the-go food and drink related litter are highly problematic littered items and together make up the majority of litter found on our streets. The government is bringing in policy like Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging and the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) to tackle food and drink related litter, and KBT think there should be similar policy initiatives to tackle smoking related litter.

The European Single Use Plastic Directive sets an ambition for cigarette filters to be subject to EPR schemes.

KBT propose an independent ‘Task Force’ to be set up to manage funding provided by the tobacco industry aimed at tackling smoking related litter. The tobacco industry would have no relationship with the Task Force in line with the guidance in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

KBT propose that the group would have an independent chair and would themselves act as secretariat to the group but are open to more detailed discussion on these points.

This approach would allow a systematic approach to tackling smoking related litter and allow for the funding of local projects, research, infrastructure and developing educational materials, for example. This would require significant and long term funding from the industry in order to create impact at a national level.

The independence and focus on environmental protection would mean the work was not associated with public health, would give regard to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and would allow a systematic long-term approach to be taken.

As well as the research provided to the Tidy Britain APPG by Dr Dannielle Green and the Anglia Ruskin University team on the effects of cigarette butts on plant life, there is also research showing the negative effects on watercourses and marine life.

KBT believe it is incumbent on the gathered parties to find a solution. If a voluntary solution cannot be found then EPR for tobacco filters should be introduced.

Minister Pow then explained that as the Minister for the Environment, her portfolio covers water as well as litter, and that many of these cigarette butts are washed down the drain and end up in watercourses, so they have a many faceted impact on the environment. This is why it’s so serious and an integral part of the plastic issue that we are dealing with at the moment, she noted, as well as being a toxicity issue.

Richard McIlwain (Keep Britain Tidy) agreed that cigarette butts have a significant environmental impact. He went on to say that cigarette butts are a single use plastic, are toxic, and KBT know a lot of smokers think it’s ok to put them down drains. He stated that this is an environmental problem, not just an issue of aesthetics or cost to authorities. KBT believe that entering into a voluntary scheme would demonstrate serious intentions of industry to tackle this issue.

Minister Pow said that any voluntary scheme must have an independent administrator, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be Keep Britain Tidy, and that the administrator and the tobacco industry would need to agree on the precise details of the scheme. She noted that it is Defra’s position that any voluntary scheme must reflect the relevant recommendations laid out in the guidelines of the FCTC. For example, the tobacco industry must have a purely transactional role and not take credit for the work associated with the voluntary scheme and contracts must be in place governing any agreements.

The Minister explained that she wanted to understand what is preventing tobacco industry from engaging with independent organisations and local authorities. She noted there needed to be local solutions, as there are different local issues in different authorities. She was clear that the scheme should not allow claims of social responsibility to be made by the tobacco industry.

Discussion (Roundtable) (20 mins)

Tobacco Manufacturer’s Association (TMA)

Rupert Lewis (TMA) expressed the TMA’s thanks to the Minister for convening the meeting and outlined they are keen to play a role. He explained that they had no objection to a voluntary scheme but noted that more detail was required.

Rupert Lewis stated that there is not much data on cigarette litter or that it is often out of date. He mentioned some research being 20 years old. He also noted that the focus is often on prevalence over quantity, but there is a need to be realistic in how its presented. He went on to point out that the same KBT research which shows cigarette filters make up 66% of litter also shows that when considered by volume, cigarette butts only form 0.2% of litter and are not in the top 15 most littered items. The TMA have engaged environmental consultants to look into the costs to local authorities of clearing up cigarette litter, and the impacts of covid-19 on littering. Rupert Lewis then said that the TMA find that the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control (LGDTC) have been a barrier to investment, including in the past with KBT, and stressed that they believe these to be guidelines and not an obstacle. They also welcome KBT’s ‘change of heart’ on engagement.

Minister Pow noted that it doesn’t matter how big or small the amount is – it is still toxic.

Rupert Lewis explained that the TMA believe volume would be a better indicator of how litter is managed.

Minister Pow said that Defra have information from LAs on how difficult cigarette litter is to clean up and asked Keep Britain Tidy to comment on the data.

Richard McIlwain (KBT) said that there is lots of recent data on the abundance and spatial distribution of litter which includes cigarettes, noting that the research and reports mentioned earlier in the meeting are from 2019. On the point made by the TMA about volume, Richard McIlwain explained that it is not just the number but the geographical spread of smoking related litter which is the issue – it is found on 79% of sites. He went on to say that there is difficulties in cleansing both by machines and by manual picking due to the size of cigarette filters. On the TMA’s point about KBT’s ‘change of heart’, he explained that this was the result of a new chief executive being appointed in 2015. The KBT board has since agreed a new approach was required because of the extent of the problem. KBT approached the tobacco industry in 2017 about a trial which was rebutted, and they have tried to engage over the past couple of years but without success.

Japan Tobacco International UK (JTI UK)

Charlie Cunningham-Reid (JTI) thanked the minister for convening the group and said that JTI have been active in anti-litter work for the last 7-8 years. They have significant campaigns launching this month aiming to change behaviours; these campaigns were delayed by covid-19. They were in active discussions with KBT in July 2018 and again in December 2018, but by that time JTI had planned their current campaigns. He said that JTI welcome this discussion and are interested in the voluntary scheme but need more detail on financial and governance side.

Minister Pow reminded attendees that it had been made clear that attendees had not been invited to discuss corporate social responsibility. She was encouraged to hear that JTI would like to have further discussions.

Richard McIlwain (KBT) explained that that when they were approached by JTI in 2018 they were looking to split £70k between different organisations and KBT felt that was not significant amount of money to make a real change.

Charlie Cunningham-Reid (JTI) said that was the budget for their previous campaign and they are now making a significantly bigger investment.

Minister Pow asked if the roundtable attendees could agree the problem would benefit from a whole industry approach. In that way the industry could do more, and better research could be carried out.

Imperial Tobacco Limited (ITL)

Lindsay Mennell-Keating (ITL) said that more detail is required on KBT’s proposal but ITL welcome conversation and are willing to take an active role in addressing smoking related litter. On the subject of portable ashtrays, she said they have tried distributing portable ashtrays but with limited success.

Minister Pow asked why portable ashtrays don’t work. She said she had not seen them in the past and is personally aware of many cigarette butts being littered on the ground.

Lindsay Mennell-Keating referred to research showing these types of ashtrays are good for convenience on-the-go but went on to say that more facilities are required including more infrastructure.

Minister Pow expressed her view that it must therefore be better to have a joined-up response to allow systematic change.

British American Tobacco (BAT)

Nathan Jones (BAT) added on portable ashtrays that there is evidence that people are uncomfortable with keeping recently extinguished items in a container in their bag. This research shows this is a psychological barrier and that it is easier to drop them on the floor, which he noted was not acceptable. He also said that bin facilities in streets have been reduced.

Nathan Jones went on to say that BAT welcomed the opportunity to play their part in this issue and are interested in whether this conversation is happening in devolved regions. BAT will need to know more about costs for a voluntary scheme. He stated that BAT are looking holistically at the environmental impact of their company, which is front and centre of their revised strategy.

Minister Pow reminded the group that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy is in train, including for packaging which attendees were aware of. She explained that other products could be brought into scope and that while Defra welcomes work on recycling, the meeting had been convened to discuss the issue of smoking related litter.

Imperial Tobacco Limited (ITL)

Lindsay Mennell-Keating (ITL) asked whether the Minister, KBT or officials have looked at international models.

Minister Pow said yes, the EU is moving to legislate under the Single Use Plastics Directive (SUPD).

Chris Preston (Defra) expanded on this to say that in France and the other 27 member states the SUPD will bring in EPR schemes for cigarette filters. The government has committed to meet and exceed where possible the ambition of the SUPD and Defra will explore the option of a mandatory scheme should voluntary options prove ineffective.

Richard McIlwain (KBT) added that there are many behaviour change trials globally and KBT will look at building on them. He said that in reality, the task force would provide an opportunity for genuine change. There have been, in the past, a lot of targeted trials but these aren’t scaled up. He noted that there are lessons to learn from other countries, but KBT are no longer satisfied with one off success and believe the collected attendees need to drive national change, which needs an overall approach.

Action on Smoking and Health

Deborah Arnott (ASH) thanked Minister Pow for her interest in this area, commitment to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and the measures that had been put in place surrounding the meeting.

Deborah Arnott (ASH) highlighted that the FCTC is not just a public health treaty and includes articles on the environment, illicit trade and taxation. The convention governs tobacco control in all aspects of policy and all bodies of government. It is ASH’s view that this means a voluntary scheme would not be appropriate, and only a legally binding solution is suitable. This concern has also been raised to ASH by the Local Government Association (LGA) and would prevent local authorities from accessing funding through the voluntary scheme.

Minister Pow stated the government position that the framework does not prevent public bodies from discussing tobacco litter with the industry where that is necessary. However, where public bodies, including local authorities, decide to discuss steps that the tobacco industry can take to clean up the litter caused by its product, such discussions should be fully transparent – for example, by pro‑actively publishing online any correspondence and minutes of meetings.

Deborah Arnott clarified that she believed that the meeting has been coordinated transparently but stressed that in ASH’s opinion a voluntary scheme like the one outlined by KBT would not be in line with the FCTC.

Chris Preston (Defra) explained that Defra were facilitating a discussion in this meeting and the view from Defra is that industry must take responsibility for their product and related clean up. The scheme described is independent, so the tobacco industry wouldn’t have control over its activities. He stressed that this would not be a partnership between government and the tobacco industry and that any voluntary scheme should restrict the tobacco company’s ability to promote their relationship or contribution to it, as is consistent with FCTC guidelines. He then reaffirmed that it is very clear the UK government absolutely supports and upholds its participation in the FCTC.

Closing remarks (Minister Pow)

Minister Pow closed the meeting with the following remarks:

Working with Keep Britain Tidy or another independent body to develop a voluntary Producer Responsibility scheme appears to provide a potential vehicle for the industry to reduce smoking related litter in this country.

Any scheme must be developed in accordance with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the FCTC guidelines and the Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control.

Defra respects the position of local authorities. It will be for the administrator of any such scheme to ensure that the scheme is designed in such a way that will allow local authorities to benefit from it. Everyone should be transparent in any engagement with the industry.

If smoking related litter continues to be a significant environmental concern, Defra will reflect on what steps the government can take going forward to ensure that the tobacco industry takes increasing responsibility for the litter that its products create.

This could include a regulatory EPR scheme for cigarette butts, which could go beyond what has been proposed by the voluntary scheme discussed today in terms of scope and fees.

Defra will continue to monitor the growing body of evidence surrounding the environmental harm caused by cigarette filters and any changes in the level of smoking related litter.

The Minister encouraged all present to think seriously about what they can do to tackle smoking related litter.