No butts about it – the University’s smoking policy encourages a cleaner, healthier, and safer campus

By Dale Johnson Posted: February 28, 2018 2:45 p.m.

Austin Yang uses one of the designated smoking areas on campus.
Austin Yang uses one of the designated smoking areas on campus. Photo: U of R Photography

Cigarette smoking in Canada has decreased from 50 per cent of adults in 1965 to 17 per cent in 2016, according to Ottawa-based Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada. While that's great news, it still leaves a staggering amount of cigarette butt litter that does not easily biodegrade. What is left, after the sun has done its job, is an overwhelming bunch of tiny particles containing toxic chemicals: nicotine, arsenic, lead, copper, chromium, cadmium, and polyvaromatic hydrocarbons. These toxins make their way, via wind and water, into the air we breathe and the water in our streams, lakes, and rivers. So while many people have stopped smoking, the ongoing impact by way of unsightly cigarette butt litter and negative environmental impact continues.

Engineering student Priscila Dickinson brought that message home at a recent Solid Waste Management Workshop held on campus.

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Dickinson led a research group that looked into the number of cigarette butts on campus. The research group carried out its work from June to August 2017 (prior to the revised policy now in effect) and looked at 15 locations on campus. The researchers estimated there are about 20,500 cigarette butts on campus at any given time.  

“I found there was quite a high density of cigarette butt litter outside the designated smoking areas,” Dickinson says.

“The higher density was not close to where people gather, like at doors or service areas, but in dark areas away from doors. You see a lot of litter in these places – like 200 cigarette butts per square metre,” she says.

The University’s revised smoking policy, which came into effect on Sept. 1, 2017, prohibits smoking and the use of tobacco products in University buildings and properties, with the exception of just three designated smoking areas, which recognize the need to have safe outdoor smoking spaces for campus residences and others:

  • the entrance to the Research and Innovation Centre facing the Dr. Lloyd Barber Academic Green and next to College West
  • the south entrance to the Language Institute
  • the south entrance to Luther College facing Parking Lot 10

“My argument is that the high density of cigarette butt litter outside designated smoking areas indicates the former smoking policy was not effective. Therefore, my research helps to confirm that the new smoking policy implemented by the University in September was the right thing to do,” Dickinson says.

And more work will be done to build on the research already completed. Dr. Kelvin Ng, Associate Professor of Environmental Systems Engineering, recently received $1,700 from the University’s Sustainability Community Engagement Fund (SCEF) to raise awareness of cigarette butt littering and its associated economic, social, and environmental impacts. The SCEF is a fund targeted toward innovative student, faculty, and staff-led projects that will improve the sustainability of our campus while ensuring positive impacts in the surrounding communities.

In the meantime, improved fire safety is showing up as a third benefit from using the designated smoking areas and receptacles – in addition to reducing exposure to harmful second-hand smoke and litter from cigarette butts.

The U of R’s Director of Health, Safety and Wellness, Darren Cherwaty, says during the past two years there were two fires on campus that were attributed to carelessly discarded cigarette butts and two other fires suspected of being caused by cigarette butts.

“The receptacles in the designated smoking areas are fireproof,” explains Cherwaty. “We need smokers to use these and reduce the risk of fire on our campus, especially given the dry conditions over the last few years.”

So moving to a smoke-free campus is not only healthier and cleaner, but also truly safer.

Faculty, staff, and students at the University of Regina who would like to stop smoking are encouraged to access smoking cessation programs through available health benefit programs.