City council accused of backing out of anti-litter campaign in row over tobacco giant’s money

Anti-litter campaigners have accused Bristol City Council of pulling support for a huge drive to stop smokers dropping cigarette butts – because it’s funded by the world’s biggest tobacco company. Clean Up Britain (CLUB) says the authority withdrew backing as a “major partner” for the Get Your Butts Off Our Streets initiative, fronted by comedian Marcus Brigstocke, when it found out Philip Morris UK, which makes Marlboro products, was the financial backer.

The council insists no money had been promised and only an initial meeting was held, and that joining forces with the tobacco giant would have breached its advertising and sponsorship policy. Last week, CLUB drove a massive screen mounted on a van through the city centre showing a short film of former University of Bristol student Brigstocke slamming smokers who throw their butts on the floor as “selfish” and “stupid”.

The celebrity warned they could be hit with a £2,500 fine and a criminal record and that it cost Bristol residents hundreds of thousands of pounds in council tax every year to clear them up. But while the campaign, which launched in January, was being stepped up alongside anti-litter bus-stop adverts and social media messages, CLUB founder John Read criticised the local authority for what he saw as reneging on a deal.

Read more: Comedian Marcus Brigstocke slams ‘stupid, selfish act’ that some Bristol smokers do

He said: “Cigarette butts blight the streets of Bristol, and we’re committed to our goal of a cleaner Britain. That said, Bristol City Council’s withdrawal of support has left a bad taste in our mouths.

“The council portrays itself as an environmentally conscious council, with strong ‘green’ credentials. However, in this case, the council has put its purified political principles before the interests of its residents.”

Mr Read claims that having initially agreed to be a major partner on the campaign, the authority pulled out after discovering Philip Morris UK was paying for it, even though the firm had understood it would receive no public credit and remain a silent partner. He accused the council of “capitulating” to pressure from anti-smoking lobbyists.

“As we made clear to BCC from the outset, our campaign was funded by Philip Morris UK, which wants to find sustainable ways to address the significant problem of cigarette litter,” he said. “We also made it very clear to BCC that Philip Morris UK would get no public credit or attribution for funding the campaign, so there has never been any question that this is some sort of greenwashing exercise for Philip Morris – nothing could be further from the truth.

“As is evident from the campaign creative, we have kept our word and no one would ever have known the campaign was funded by Philip Morris UK if BCC had not capitulated to the pressure applied to them by the anti-smoking pressure group, ASH. Just for the sake of complete clarity, this campaign has been entirely devised and implemented by Clean Up Britain.

“We are the independent administrators of the campaign and Philip Morris UK has not been involved at all in any of the decision-making. This campaign is nothing but a positive one, designed to make Bristol an even better place for people to live in and reduce tobacco pollution.”

A city council spokesperson said that although it supports the campaign, it cannot be directly involved because it would go against a policy passed by full council. They said: “We invest £6million each year in tackling litter, which includes people dropping cigarette butts.

“Action against litter includes fining 3,985 people in the last year for littering offences. Our public health team also works hard to support people who want to quit smoking. We welcome the efforts of any group that wants to clean up our streets and hope this campaign makes an impact on cigarette litter in Bristol.

“We have not been directly involved in developing this campaign as the source of its funding is the tobacco industry and this contravenes our Advertising and Sponsorship Policy.” The policy, approved by BCC cabinet in March last year, includes “promotion or availability of tobacco products or substitute tobacco products” as content that is banned for advertising and sponsorship involvement by the council”.

It says that when considering advertising and sponsorship opportunities, the authority will ensure that it “fulfils the council’s operating principles set out in its corporate strategy”, which is the document outlining its commitments to improving and supporting residents’ health. The organisation decided that providing public money and resource to a campaign backed by tobacco industry funding would breach both sections.

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