Don Draper enjoys one of his vices.

One of the pleasures of watching Mad Men was catching these little glimpses of how life used to be not so long ago. Afer a while you stop reacting to these things, but I remember chuckling at an ignorant account team serving prawn cocktails to Jewish clients, and gasping at Don Draper telling the woman who headed this company that he “won’t let a woman talk to him this way”. What a way to win over your customer!

There was an episode which showed the nice nuclear Draper family picnicing on the grass somewhere. When they were finished they stood up shook out the blanket scattering scraps and litter all over the place, and then hopped into their car and drove off!

In the 50-60 odd years since the series was set there have been a lot of changes. The sexism and anti-semitism like shown would is not be acceptable in public nowdays. Some people will still be that way in private, but it’s a rare bigot and mysoginist who will be overt about it. The attitude to littering has for the most part totally changed as well. No one will argue that it is okay for anyone to drop their crap all over the ground. “Who do you expect is going to pick it up for you?” is the call today.

There is one exception though. One group still get a pass on this standard of modern society. If you are a smoker you still have the ability to drop your butts wherever you want. No one will stop you, and no one will even comment most of the time. Smokers take this privilege as such an aboslute right I have seen smokers standing beside rubbish bins with ashtrays, and drop their finished tobacco sticks on the ground rather than take a step to do it properly.

Fag butts dumped on the ground in Stockholm

Once upon a time I went through a brief phase of trying to ask them to do it properly. The looks and reactions I got would not have been out of place if I had suggested performing obscene acts with the corpses of their family members. It didn’t matter how polite, or reasonable I tried to sound, I got the impression that they would do violence (probably to me) rather than do the right thing. So what can be done to get this group of unrepentant litterers to change their behaviour?

Here is my modest proposal.

How about we embed an RFID chip with a unique number in the filter of each and every cigarette sold in the EU, and then charge a 5c deposit pending the return of that butt?

This would give a few benefits.

First cigarettes will be more expensive to buy which helps put people off buying in the first place. More costly smokes can drive smuggling but there are ways of dealing with that.

The big benefit would be that, overnight, smokers would stop littering. Dropping butts and emptying ashtrays on the ground would be throwing money away. Instead, anyone who would bring their butts for proper disposal would then get their €1 back. As the butts are chipped they could be dropped into a machine for automatic counting and re-payment. No need to sort through bags of rubbish. Even if some smoker was still chucking their butts others would be picking them up for the cash they represent – plenty of people in Sweden go through bins here looking for bottles and cans to recover the 1kr (€0.09) deposit on them.

The spin off benefit is that the RFID chips can be used to help tackle smuggling. A simple hand scan will allow the authorities to identify legitimately produced/imported cigarettes, track shipments from black imports and production, and even identify counterfit ones.

So smokers have another disincentive to smoke, littering is reduced dramatically, and a blow can be struck against organised crime. What is not to like about the idea? But this technology costs money you say! It does. But it will be easy to put the cost on the tobacco companies, and what are they going to do – pass it on to their customers? Could there be a health impact from subjecting RFID tags to the 400-900 degree temp of a burning cigarette? Possibly, but this is cancer sticks we are talking about. If you are already juggling petrol bombs, using leaded instead of unleaded petrol in them is not really changing your risk level.

Having had this great idea I now need to convince the authorities to implement it. I need a PR campaign for this. If he hasn’t died already from old age, lung cancer, or a very pissed off woman – perhaps Don Draper might be able to help?

[2020 Target: 16/52. 6,810/25,000]