Pick up for Pica

A small group of citizens seeks to alert the public about a new category of hazardous waste.

Winter 1997 ALIVE
by Shelley M. Klein, Ph.D.

The health hazards associated with cigarette smoking have been widely publicized and are well known. However, a small group of concerned citizens, the Taconic DDSO (Developmental Disabilities Services Office) Pica Task Force, is trying desperately to get the word out about a little publicized health danger associated with cigarettes: Pica. Pica is a disorder characterized by persistent craving for, and ingestion of non-nutritive substances. It derives its name from the Latin word for the Magpie, a bird that collects things compulsively and indiscriminately. Pica exists in all segments of the population, but is particularly prevalent among some people with developmental disabilities. The substances most often craved are cigarette butts.

Judith Solomon, the parent of an adult who suffers from Pica, and a member of the Pica Task Force, first became aware of Pica when her son with developmental disabilities was seven years of age. "Gordon was fascinated by the red leaves of a tree in our backyard," she recalls. "He would ingest them." The problem became more serious as Gordon matured.

"Now he has Pica for cigarette butts and this obsession is very frightening. He feels compelled to find these butts at risk of life or limb," says Mrs. Solomon. "He has even run away from a residential placement to find butts outside which smokers carelessly discard. However, in his current placement at Opengate Inc. in Somers, N.Y., an environment which is kept free of cigarette butts, his Pica behavior has diminished tremendously."

The behavioral manifestations of Pica, particularly when the object of this behavior is a cigarette butt, can cause serious medical and nutritional complications for those who engage in it. It also presents substantial behavioral management challenges for caretakers. However for Judith Solomon, the committee, and others who have a loved one with Pica, the problem has taken on a new urgency.

"In the coming years residential developmental centers will be closing," Mrs. Solomon points out. "Many residents will be returning to the community where they will have easy access to carelessly discarded butts. I am concerned not only for my own son, but for all those with Pica. They are all my children," she remarked.

The Taconic DDSO Pica Task Force was formed in June 1993 to heighten public awareness of Pica. This small but dedicated committee has written articles, conducted seminars and contacted local and national legislators to get its message out to the public. Alice Model, a member of the Pica Task Force Committee, has produced a public service videotape about Pica which has been aired on local cable channels. Recently, the committee has begun a campaign designed to encourage business owners to monitor the disposal of cigarette butts, and other debris, in front of their places of business. In addition, the Task Force is lobbying local municipalities and small businesses to install sealed butt receptacles at their facilities in an effort to reduce access to discarded butts.

To obtain further information about Pica, or to participate in the Task Force's awareness efforts, please contact the Pica Task Force at the Taconic DDSO, Wasaic, New York 12592, (914) 8776821 ext. 3563, or the Office of Developmental Disabilities of the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health, 112 East Post Road, Second Floor, White Plains, New York, 10601, (914) 285-5256.

Judith Solomon points to a tamper-proof cigarette butt receptacle which was installed at the Taconic Developmental Center.

Voice of the Village (Mammaroneck, NY)

Oct., 1994


By Judith Solomon

We have been warned not to smoke because of the dangers to our own health and to other people's health as well (second-hand smoke). But there is yet another compelling reason to stop smoking or at the very least dispose of cigarette butts properly in a trash can rather than on the ground. Cigarette butts can be toxic to people with developmental disabilities who have a condition known as PICA (pronounced pie-ka)

PICA is an eating disorder that involves satisfaction of a craving by eating a non-food substance. Up to 26% of people in residential centers for the developmentally disabled have PICA, and a large portion of them have it for cigarette butts. This means that these people are driven to search for and swallow cigarette butts constantly. When cigarette butts are ingested, reports indicate that this may result in serious medical complications, personal injury, behavior management problems and nutritional complications.

Much work is being done at residential developmental centers for the retarded to alert smokers to the dangers of smoking and of leaving cigarette butts on the ground. Trash cans, specially designed, are being installed around the premises for disposal of cigarette bulls and a highly visible campaign aimed at raising consciousness on the part of all' at the facilities is being conducted.

In a few years, however, developmental centers will be closing and the residents will be returning to the community, many to Westchester and the Mamaroneck area. There they will find it all too easy to locate and ingest cigarette butts, unless we in the community raise our consciousness, "kick the habit", or at the very least learn to dispose of these butts in trash cans. Can't we do this to help a developmentally disabled person as well as ourselves. Isn't it about time we did?

Gannett Suburban Newspapers, April, 1995

Cigarette butts could cause danger to some

By Judith Solomon

We have all been warned that smoking is dangerous to our health and the health of others who inhale our smoke second-hand. There is another sla.nt to the smoking issue that is little known and tremendously important. It concerns the way in which people who smoke outdoors dispose of their butts on the ground. These butts can be lethal for retarded people who have the condition known as pica. Pica is an abnormal craving for non-food substances such as pebbles, trash, tabs from soda cans, string and cigarette butts. More than a quarter of residents at state developmental centers for. 'the retarded have the disorder, and what a large portion of them prefer to ingest are cigarette butts. 'That means that they are driven to search for and swallow butts constantly. When the butts are ingested, of ten many in a day, they can cause serious medical complications, personal injury, behavior management problems and nutritional complications.

Thanks to the efforts of concerned committees on pica at the various developmenta! centers, the centers have done much to alert smokers to the dangers to their residents of leaving cigarette butts on the ground. Specially designed receptac]es for butt disposal have: been affixed to the front of many of 'the buildings, and a highly visible publicity campaign has been mounted to raise smokers' consciousness.

It won't be long, though, until the state's developmental centers are closed and their residents return to their communities of origin. There they will find it all too easy to locate and ingest butts once again, causing all of our work to be in vain, unless we in the community raise our consciousness and kick the habit, or at the very least dispose of butts properly -- in trash cans, not on the ground.

Many slogans have been proposed to get across this idea, such as "Not acceptable out of a receptacle," "No grounds for butts," and "Smoke responsibly!"

Can't we heed these pleas to help people who are developmentally disabled -- and ourselves? Isn't it about time we did?

The writer, a Mamaroneck resident and parent of a retarded son, is a member of the board of directors of the Westchester Association for Retarded Citizens and of the Wasaic Developmental Center's Pica Committee.

This document's URL is: http://www.tobacco.org/Health/pica.html

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