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Tuesday, December 12

Charley Guptill: Ashtrays a simple solution to addressing cigarette litter


It’s been a year since the UCLA tobacco ban went into effect, and although the steps of Powell Library are now free of smokers and their litter, other spots on and around campus have seen a surge of smokers and cigarette butts.

UCLA can and should be doing much more to curb the cigarette butt litter both on and around campus. In a simple move that is in line with the tobacco ban’s stated concerns of “health care and environmental considerations,” ashtrays should be installed on campus and around its perimeter.

Linda Sarna, chair of the Tobacco-Free Task Force, stated in an email that cigarette butts are found in high numbers both on campus and along its perimeter. The perimeter, in particular, is constantly lined with discarded cigarette butts. The fact that butts still accumulate even though the Tobacco-Free Task Force both knows about and trains clean air advocates to patrol these hot spots substantiates the need for ashtrays.

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More than 400 colleges across the country have developed tobacco-free policies.

According to the California Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Control Program, cigarette butts account for nearly a third of all the litter in the state. However, cigarette butt litter is not just an eyesore, it has significant environmental effects too. A report published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that cigarette filters are carried as runoff from streets to drains and ultimately to the ocean where they poison marine life.

The tobacco-free policy has pushed many smokers to the sidewalks of Hilgard and Veteran avenues as well as secluded stairwells on campus. UCLA needs to take responsibility for the significant amount of litter that continues to pile up.

Moving litter from some spots to other ones does not solve the problem.

UCLA has tried to remedy this situation on campus by hanging additional signs and having campus personnel tell smokers that they are in violation of the ban. Both of these strategies have failed to eliminate the litter on campus in the way that ashtrays can.

We cannot force every on-campus smoker to stop smoking and stop leaving their cigarettes on the ground. We don’t have the manpower for that many individual confrontations. And signs, while nice, have done little to prevent people from littering their cigarette butts.

Sarna said in an email that ashtrays were not in the “spirit” of the tobacco-free policy. By this logic, ashtrays signal an acceptance of smoking. But ashtrays are not necessarily an endorsement of tobacco use; rather, they serve as both an acknowledgment that it happens and a way to contain and limit the effects of litter.

While it’s nice to speak in abstract terms about the spirit and nature of the ban, the reality of the situation is that butts are still piling up.

The policy isn’t simply a call to end smoking. It’s concerned with the consequences of smoking, including environmental ones. Allowing cigarette butt litter to continue to pile up on and around campus seems to be less in line with the policy than adding ashtrays to control and curb the trash.

Of course, smokers could throw their finished cigarettes into nearby trash cans, but this leads to other dangers too, namely the risk of fire. Conveniently placed ashtrays would further motivate smokers to throw a butt away as opposed to on the ground.

The tobacco ban has ambitious goals, but administrators need to recognize that while change is slow, it is impossible when the goal of changing campus culture is not based in the reality of the situation.

Email Guptill at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected] or tweet us @DBopinion. For this story, you can also tweet your thoughts to #smokefreeUCLA and check back on the opinion page to see your tweets.

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  • henryviii

    the world is my ashtray…

  • Context

    Thank you for recommending this sensible policy revision. I don’t like having to toss my cigarette butts on the ground, but it’s not like UCLA gives me any option. The idea that ashtrays wouldn’t be in the “spirit” of the tobacco-free policy is ridiculous. Most smokers are simply inconvenienced, not deterred, by the policy; ashtrays would be a win for all parties concerned.

  • Bruin Dave

    I agree 100%. I have observed the cigarette butts on the perimeter of campus. Excellent op-ed piece.

  • Just A Student

    Having ashtrays on campus would send a confusing message, only further encouraging people to ignore the tobacco-free policy. Having ashtrays on the perimeter of campus, however, would be a good idea both for the practical reasons listed in this piece and also, perhaps as an additional reminder to put out your cigarette before crossing over into campus

  • http://tobakkonacht.com/ Michael J. McFadden

    So the Task Force “trains clean air advocates to patrol these hot spots” eh? What sort of training does that involve actually? Are they given Jehovah Witness type literature to hand out and set sermons to preach to the recalcitrant smokers? Do they have whistles that they should blow if they see a smoker? Can they hand out tickets? Get students expelled? Shoot smokers who don’t comply?

    UCLA students should be made aware that the SmokeFree folks are basically telling a lie when they brag about “1,000 smoke free campuses” around the country. Aside from the fact that they never mention that the 1,000 is just 20% or so of more than 5,000, they also fail to mention that most of these bans likely see less compliance than even the poor compliance at UCLA’s campus. The Smoke Free folks depend upon the “Bandwagon Effect” in convincing smoking students that they are “alone” and are the “last uncooperative people fighting the trend,” when, in reality, if you look around campus newspapers all over the country, you’ll find example after example of banned campuses facing problems with bans being widely ignored. One major campus in either Minnesota or Michigan (Sorry, I get them a bit mixed up at times… New Yorker original here!) did a survey a year or so after their total ban went into effect and over a third of the student body reported that they had seen **NO** reduction at all in the amount of campus smoking after the ban.

    Google “V.Gen5H” just like that and read “The Lies Behind The Smoking Bans” there to see why these bans have so many problems being accepted. Go to TobakkoNacht dot com and read “The Endgame” book selection excerpt to see how the antismoking endgame is aimed at campuses and how it can be fought.

    Best of luck: you’re up against a powerful, well-organized, well-funded, nationwide interest group if you want to fight your ban, but if you work at it you can win. The pro-banners have virtually no science on their side: they basically want to treat the students like lab rats, conditioning their behavior into “proper channels” through the negative conditioning “electric shocks” of making smoking as difficult, unenjoyable, and uncomfortable as possible. The only problem is that students are NOT rats, they should not be TREATED like rats, and they should never, ever, ACCEPT being treated like rats.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

  • http://tobakkonacht.com/ Michael J. McFadden

    A suggestion for a truly “reasonable policy” would be the provision of several convenient, comfortable, and inviting indoor areas with decent exhaust ventilation where smoking was allowed and smokers and their friends could sit down, relax, chat, and study together.

    Of course that won’t fit in with the Antismokers’ behavioral conditioning therapy … but that’s what I mean when I say the students should not accept being treated like rats.

    - MJM

    • Viper

      And so it is !!!

  • http://tobakkonacht.com/ Michael J. McFadden

    Don’t know if I can link here, but if I can, I’d recommend students read this short TobakkoNacht excerpt dealing with campuses: bit.ly/TNCampus

    - MJM