Name of Intervention/ Program
Little Butts. Big Problem.

Background and Situation Analysis
Cigarette Butts are one of the most littered items on the planet. Cigarette butts have low biodegradability and leach organic chemicals and heavy metals into the environment that are toxic. Cigarette waste can pollute soil, beaches and waterways, harming fish and wildlife. Cigarette waste, while small in size, is a significant contributor to storm drain trash. Smokers’ rebellious attitude, unawareness of toxicity, lack of disposal infrastructure and the overwhelming social norm for disposing of cigarette butts on the ground act as behavioral cues for cigarette butt littering.

The community targeted for this program had no specific infrastructure for discarding cigarette butts. Cigarette litter is accumulating on sidewalks and streets, especially at transition points such as retail entrances and at bus stops.

Research with our priority audience showed that most people did not know that cigarette litter was toxic. And, while many understood cigarette butts to be litter, most thought it was socially acceptable since they didn’t understand of any other way to dispose of them.

To raise awareness that cigarette butts are litter, and to discourage littering, we implemented a campaign to educate, inform and provide infrastructure to address the cigarette butt littering problem.

Priority Audiences(s)
People who smoke in public that live and work within our geographic area. A major barrier is there are no public receptacles for cigarette litter. People fear they will cause a fire if they dispose of a cigarette butt in a public trash can. Our research with this audience showed that smokers will be more open to messaging about reducing cigarette litter if they feel they are not being judged for smoking. There is a large college student population in the area.

Behavioral Objectives
Goals and Objectives

  1. Create awareness that cigarette litter is toxic
  2. Instill belief that littering cigarette butts is wrong and not socially acceptable
  3. Implement an area-wide initiative to install cigarette butt receptacles 
  4. Reduce cigarette littering behavior by encouraging smokers to discard cigarette butts in receptacles

Description of Strategy/Intervention
We tested four campaign strategies to change the cigarette butt disposal behavior of smokers in public spaces. The study was designed to test the effectiveness of an awareness campaign that included digital ads and the distribution of pocket ashtrays to local businesses (Strategy 1), as well as the relative effectiveness of this campaign combined with the installation of cigarette butt receptacles (Strategy 2), sculpture events (Strategy 3), or a combination of both receptacles and events (Strategy 4). The efficacy of the campaigns at reducing cigarette butt litter was assessed through a series of site surveys to count and characterize cigarette butts and litter as well as a yearly pre- and post-program Knowledge, Attitudes, Awareness, and Beliefs survey.

Study Area

The study was implemented in a residential-industrial community with a population of nearly 60,000 who are primarily White (72%) or Black/African American (16%), based on the 2020 Census. The community is home to a public university, which serves approximately 20,000 students. Thirteen treatment sites were identified in this community.

Control Area

A similar residential-industrial community served as a geographically separated control region that would not be exposed to any campaign messaging.

Given the small size of the study area, random assignment of the study sites to conditions was not feasible.  Therefore, the study used a quasi-experimental design in which the 13 implementation locations were assigned to one of four treatment conditions based on logistical considerations such as proximity and likelihood of cross-contamination. The 13 treatment sites were assigned to each of the four strategy groups, and the 4 non-treatment sites were selected as matched controls. See the summary table below.

Condition# SitesAds + AshtraysReceptacles Sculptures + Signs
Campaign Only4X
Campaign + Receptacles3XX
Campaign + Sculptures3XX
Campaign + Sculptures + Receptacles3XXX
Geographically Separate Control4

An innovative aspect of our intervention was the introduction of larger-than-life cigarette sculptures that the outreach team circulated in pop up events throughout the area. 


  1. Infrastructure
  • Installed public cigarette litter receptacles.
    • Campaign messaging was printed on stickers placed on the receptacles. Stickers noted the partner sponsor responsible for maintenance. 
  1. Partnerships
    1. Retail Stores (convenience stores, bars, liquor stores)
      1. Distributed pocket ashtrays
      2. Displayed campaign signage
    2. Chamber of Commerce 
  • Maintained cleaning of receptacles
  1. Community outreach
  • Engage with retail partners for pocket ashtray distribution
  • Work with local Department of Health to distribute the pocket ashtrays when their tobacco retailer inspection team is visiting cigarette retailers in the participating areas.
  • Outreach team did sculpture events to display larger-than-life cigarette butt sculptures. The task involves transport and install the display as well as monitoring the display during the installation period. Campaign yard signs were displayed during and after the events.
    • We paired the sculpture display events with the implementation of cigarette butt disposal stations, distribution of pocket ashtrays and paid digital media. 
  1. Paid media
  • We ran campaign digital media ads for 8 weeks geo-targeted to the participating community area after cigarette receptacle installation. Digital ads were targeted to smokers in our geographic area.
  1. Social media
  • The campaign Facebook page posted in general about the campaign and also specifically about the partners, their commitment, and any sculpture events coming up.

Evaluation Methods and Results
We signed on 19 retail partners to display campaign signage and distribute pocket ashtrays.

Across the entire study, a total of 1,648 cigarette butts were collected from across the 17 sites.  Across all three baseline measures, the average number of cigarette butts picked up across the treatment and control sites was not significantly different.

From Baseline to Week 1, the Campaign + Receptacles + Sculptures sites showed the largest percent reduction in cigarette butt accumulation, and three treatment groups performed better than the Control or Campaign Only conditions.

Week 4 Impact

From Baseline to Week 4, the Campaign + Receptacles and the Campaign + Receptacles + Sculptures sites showed the largest percent reduction in cigarette butt accumulation compared to the Control or Campaign Only conditions

Two important findings emerged from the pilot study. 

  • Results from most weeks suggested that the basic campaign (digital ads and pocket ashtrays) was not likely sufficient to impact cigarette butt disposal behavior as a standalone strategy.
  • Results are mixed, but the sites with receptacles (regardless of the sculpture event) consistently performed best. 

Additional results from campaign efforts can be gleaned from the recent Knowledge, Attitudes, Behaviors and Beliefs (KABB) quantitative survey. These results could be a reflection of the recent cigarette butt campaign efforts.

– Awareness concerning the toxic and harmful effects of cigarette butts to the environment has significantly increased from 71% in 2022 to 77% in 2023.

– Self-reports of having “littered cigarette butts and/or vape cartridges in the past 30 days,” decreased down to 56% in 2023 from 66% in 2022. Notably, it is the only litter product with a decreased rate of littering noted in the KABB survey.

Taken together, the results indicate that the installation of cigarette receptacle infrastructure has the potential to substantially enhance the impacts of traditional advertising. 

View Sample 1

View Sample 2

Entry Letter: C