RI town won’t back Boy Scout’s service project

Posted Nov. 25, 2011, at 7:18 p.m.

EAST GREENWICH, R.I. — The first municipality in Rhode Island to ban smoking in restaurants won’t back a Boy Scout’s offer to install cigarette butt receptacles along Main Street, in part because the town manager believes the containers could encourage the habit.

William Sequino, the town manager in the wealthy waterfront town of East Greenwich, described eighth-grader Giulio Cataldo’s idea as “kind of a unique project” but told the 13-year-old, in short: If you want to do it, leave the town out of it.

“I thought it sent an ambivalent kind of message,” Sequino said of having the receptacles installed at strategic spots along the mile-long thoroughfare of hair salons, restaurants and other small shops. “I thought if you put the receptacles there, you would encourage smoking.”

Sequino also said the town didn’t want to spend resources emptying the receptacles, the receptacles could become a liability if they ended up in the street and they didn’t fit with the town’s quaint aesthetic.

“We have lots of things to do,” he said of priorities in East Greenwich, which has a brand-new middle school and where the council recently approved a $1 million renovation to the high school library. “I’m not sure putting cigarette receptacles on Main Street is one of the things that we want to do, especially given our past history with the anti-smoking campaign.”

East Greenwich banned smoking in establishments before a statewide ban went into effect in 2005.

Cataldo said Friday he has found a different sponsor, the Youth to Youth substance abuse prevention program, which is led by the town’s drug counselor. Willing businesses will “adopt” receptacles, bringing them in and out from the sidewalk each day and emptying them when necessary.

Cataldo, who is on the chess and math teams at Cole Middle School, came up with the idea for installing the receptacles as his Troop 1 Eagle Scout project while walking between a Main Street pizzeria and the Armory; he saw so many butts on the ground, he said, he thought it reflected poorly on East Greenwich, whose streets are otherwise tidy.

He researched how much the receptacles would cost (he found nice-looking ones for $40 or less). He walked up and down the strip, identifying eight locations he figured they could best be put to use. He estimates he visited 40 businesses seeking support for his idea, and walked away with signatures of at least 30 in favor. He took pictures of butts on the ground outside Town Hall and a si gn outside one establishment that reminded smokers, “Our flower pots are not ashtrays.”

In a glossy brochure Cataldo prepared, he said the project would not only help get butts off the streets but also stop them from getting into the bay by way of storm drains. The receptacles could even help reduce smoking, he said, as his plan was to include a cessation message and telephone number for people wishing to quit.

But when he pitched the project to the town — which he hoped would serve as his “benefitting” organization — he was turned down. It was suggested Cataldo consider painting the town lanterns or snowplows instead.

The Town Council put the matter on its agenda at last week’s meeting, but Cataldo’s project met similar concerns there. The councilors were impressed with his presentation, President Michael Isaacs said. But they told him he should pursue the idea with individual merchants rather than make it a town project.

“The concerns of the council were really more focused on the practical aspects,” Isaacs told The Associated Press. He said the town was “really not in a position to incur any further expense.”

Cataldo said the town’s outlay would be minimal since the receptacles wouldn’t need emptying more than once a month. And he dismissed the argument that the containers could encourage smoking as “fallacious” in part by bringing up another amenity provided along Main Street.

“They have ‘Mutt Mitts’ for picking up dog poo,” he said. “If the cigarette butt receptacles encourage smoking, then the only logical conclusion is that Mutt Mitts encourage dogs to poop.”

The East Greenwich Chamber of Commerce executive director, Stephen Lombardi, called Cataldo’s project a “worthwhile endeavor” but said his group could not sponsor it. The head of the merchants association, Diane Villari, who owns a salon on Main Street next to her husband’s cobbler shop, said she liked the idea but she couldn’t really go against the town.

On a recent walk down Main Street, Cataldo pointed out a few locations where butts were a problem on the otherwise clean street. He noted there were no butts in front of the Greenwich Hotel, which already has a receptacle — but has been the source of complaints over smokers congregating.

Cataldo said he would have preferred that the town agree to sponsor his project and clean out the receptacles, but he’s relieved his project may go ahead.

Meantime, he’s reflecting on the civics lesson that came with the whole endeavor.

“I learned a lot about town politics,” he said.

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