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Charley Guptill: Ashtrays a simple solution to addressing cigarette litter

By Charley Guptill

April 22, 2014 12:45 am

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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