Despite a recent campus smoking ban, a San Diego State University team discovered more than 17,000 cigarette butts in a recent cleanup. Still, the number was an improvement from last year — when 20,000 were found.

On March 22, a team led by a public health professor scoured the campus to rid SDSU of lingering butts.

More than 50 students participated in the annual cigarette butt cleanup on March 22. Photo courtesy SDSU News Center

“SDSU is a great university, and one thing that great universities do is support healthy lifestyles,” said the professor, Tom Novotny of the Graduate School of Public Health. “The smoking ban was just the beginning. We need to do more as a campus community to enforce the ban.”

Campus parking lots and the trolley station had more cigarette butts than other parts of campus.

It’s no secret that smoking is detrimental to your health — but the impact of cigarettes on the environment is an increasing concern for SDSU researchers.

Novotny has dedicated countless research endeavors to shed light on the dangers of smoking and the negative effects that occur both to the body and environment.
“There’s a lot of smoking-related research happening at SDSU about the health and environmental problems attributed to smoking,” Novotny said. “Even with the recent smoking ban, it’s up to us to create a leadership environment to support the non-smoking norm.”
Cigarette butts consist of filters made of a non-biodegradable plastic called cellulose acetate, and exposing the chemicals to the environment is known to have significant negative effects, said Rick Gersberg, a professor for the Graduate School of Public Health at SDSU.

“There is no ‘safe’ level of environmental butt waste,” Novotny said. “It is a toxic, non-biodegradable contaminant caused by littering.” 

In January, SDSU committed to becoming a completely smoke-free campus.

Novotny has observed that since the ban took place, fewer smokers exist on campus.

“Although we aren’t there yet, there’s definitely been somewhat of an improvement,” he said. “It will take time to normalize the idea that it’s a non-smoking campus.”

— SDSU News Center

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