CAMPAIGNERS have called for a clampdown on people littering streets with cigarettes after branding East Lancashire town centres "ashtrays"

They said it was now the area's biggest litter problem - and want local authorities to start issuing fines in a bid to stub out the practice.

There are also calls for a change in smokers' attitudes, particularly outside businesses and pubs, to stop streets becoming littered with cigarette butts.

Since the ban on smoking came into force in England in July, councillors, pub landlords and environmental campaigners said that the litter problem had increased sharply in East Lancashire.

It is said to be particularly on Saturday and Sunday mornings after the weekend nights out, when streets outside pubs are littered with discarded cigarettes.

But it is not just the night-time economy that is affected - the outsides of many offices and workplaces have similar piles of fag ends.

Campaigners said that smokers littering the streets needed to face the fines that those who dropped other types of rubbish, such as chewing gum, received.

They want the council wardens to go out on patrol to run a clampdown.

East Lancashire Friends of the Earth said that there was "no excuse" for smokers dropping litter and that councils should take a strong stance against offenders.

Brian Jackson, from the group, said: "There is no excuse for dropping litter, especially when there are ashtrays provided.

"It looks so bad when you are walking down the street and you are met with the sight of so much cigarette rubbish. The mess you see some days is outrageous.

"If there are bins and ash trays the councils can be very firm with anyone who is littering."

Coun Howard Baker from Burnley Council said the authority should be taking a tougher line on smokers who litter and pubs that do not clear up.

Environmental Campaigns, which runs the Keep Britain Tidy Campaign, said it wanted to change people's attitudes and behaviour towards dropping cigarette litter following the ban.

A spokesman said: "Littering is an offence and we want to help encourage smokers to be more responsible about the way they dispose of their cigarette butts."

Landlord Geoff Sutcliffe, from the local Licensed Victuallers' Association, said the issue was one that pubs in the area were taking very seriously.

Mr Sutcliffe, who runs the Rising Sun in Whalley New Road, Brownhill, said: "Most pubs in East Lancashire have special outdoor smoking areas and bins but even that doesn't always help to limit litter.

"The problem is with the attitudes of smokers and it makes it very difficult for pubs to keep the areas around tidy.

"The public need to be educated that the littering must stop."

Local authorities are able to prosecute premises if littering around the business becomes a problem under environmental health regulations.

But Mr Sutcliffe said: "I am aware of prosecutions in Scotland where the smoking ban has been in force for a bit longer than this country.

"I don't think the situation here has reached that point here yet, because the law is still relatively new, but that is what will happen in the future.

"Every day I always sweep up outside my pub, not just because of the cigarette butts but because I want the place to look tidy and welcoming.

"It is very important to do that now since the smoking ban."

At India Mill in Darwen the entrances and carpark have become covered in litter and cigarette ends.

The former cotton mill in Bolton Road, which has a Grade II listed campanile chimney, has been sympathetically restored over recent years to provide prestigious office and leisure space.

Chief executive of the India Mill Company, Roger Southam, laid the blame at the feet of the Government for the new smoking legislation, and said that the company was "hamstrung".

He said they had been forced to close their former smoking shelter as it did not meet with new regulations.

Mr Southam said: "Unfortunately it's one of these things that the Government dictate to the country without thinking about the consequences on everybody."

Coun John Slater from Blackburn with Darwen Council said: "We have been working very closely with the pubs to make sure that the smoking ban is enforced and that there are no problems.

"There is certainly an issue with litter but we are taking a 'softly softly' approach.

"We can prosecute but we will not be resorting to that option.

"Education for both pubs and smokers is the key thing.

"We will not be enforcing the regulations with a big stick."

Hyndburn Council leader Coun Peter Britcliffe said the problem is a result of a "huge transitional change" that pubs and smokers were still getting used to.

He said: "The laws are still very new and the council is working with pubs to make sure that litter is not a problem."