Taking a look at Memorial’s smoking ban a few years later

In 2013, Memorial University took a step similar to many other universities across the country to curb the menace that is smoking on campus. Armed with posters bearing catchy slogans and the removal of ashtrays, on August 1, 2013, smoking became officially banned at MUN.

A similar move by the university had been ratified in 2006, though in theory the 2013 decision, brought in as the final step of the phasing-in method which began in 2011, seems to have been the definitive final nail in the smoke-proof coffin for everyone on campus looking to get their nicotine fix—In practice however, the ban has been less than effective.

“The Long-term health and safety of students and staff, the detrimental health impact of smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke, and the university’s ability to influence community and society through its policies and actions were factors that influenced the board’s decision, said Kent Decker, then vice-president of Administration and Finance in the 2013 policy release.

Sheila Miller, director of the Department of Health and Safety, added that they, Hope and expect smokers to comply with the non-smoking policy.

Despite the addition of a number of posters around campus doorways and the removal of cigarette butt receptacles, there was little actual change. The policy is such that it cannot be enforced by CEP, rather, members of the university community are expected to self regulate, encouraging fellow students and faculty to cease smoking on campus.

To the surprise of few, in the years following the university-wide ban, there is no shortage of smokers on campus. There is, however, a new problem facing the University in light of its zero-tolerance policy. In the absence of designated smoking areas or appropriate receptacle, the campus has become increasingly littered with the other by-product of smoking: cigarette butts.

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While an obvious eye-sore, the litter from cigarettes poses an even greater problem environmentally. Originally introduced in the 1950s, the cellulose-acetate filter was the tobacco industry’s response to growing medical research on the adverse health-effects of smoking. While a 2001 release from the National Cancer Institute shows little to no lasting health benefit from the addition of plastic filters, the majority of all mass-produced cigarettes today include them.

With over 4-trillion cigarette butts discarded world-wide yearly, they are among the most prominent of all man-made litter.

As cigarette smoke is inhaled through the acetate filter, it leaves traces of tar and otherwise harmful chemicals which remain within the discarded butt. As previous research has indicated, filters which are washed out to sea and other water reserves through drainage and runoff can be immensely harmful to micro-organisms, as well as small vertebrate fish. The inherent environmental risks are obvious, and range from population damage to food-chain toxicity.

The questions of cigarette litter and its environmental impact have generated wide-spread discussion, and potential solutions range from clean-up taxation on cigarettes to outright bans. As is evident at Memorial University alone, however, smoking-bans are often ineffective. With students, staff, and faculty continuing to smoke, if the University is serious about cleaning up its act, but is unwilling to have a hands-on approach to enforcing their ban, then perhaps there are other options.

Start-ups in San Diego and New Jersey have already begun looking at the ways which butts can be recycled. RippleLife.org, based out of San Diego, pays three dollars for every pound of cigarette waste collected at annual beach-cleanup events.

Another group, Foxwoods, which has operated in the US and Canada since 2012, even provides prepaid UPS shipping slips so that individuals can send their collected waste to a processing plant free of charge.

Foxwoods’ processor, the New Jersey based TerraCycle, donates one dollar for every pound of cigarette butts collected to anti-littering campaigns, all while working to recycles butts into usable products. The plastic cellulose-acetate filters are processed into plastic lumber which in-turn is used to make shipping pallets, among other products.

As for recycling by-products, a 2010 study in the journal for Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research headed up by Chinese researcher Jun Zhao, showed that even chemical extracts from cigarette butts soaked in water may be utilized as a rust-control compound in the oil and gas sector.

Rather than continue to pile up around campus at an increasing environmental risk, cigarette butts can be recycled and repurposed, though to do so would force Memorial University to look back at a policy which they were certain would end smoking once and for all.

The obvious alternative to collecting and recycling cigarette waste is to simply not create the waste in the first place. It is an admirable ambition, but one that has simply not panned out for the University. Memorial is left then with two options: Either continue the ban with increased vigour and greater penalty for those staff and students ignoring it, or to accept that their phasing-out policy may have concluded prematurely, and re-introduce proper receptacles for cigarette litter.

While the promise of a Smoke-Free Campus looks nice plastered over walls and doors and first-year pamphlets, the reality is that its practical effects are lacking, as much as any receptacle for cigarette butts on campus. Until a better solution can be found, smokers will continue, and with little other option, then to discard both the ban and their cigarette butts at hazard to an environment and a university which we would all like to take pride in. As a campus, if we can’t clean up our act entirely, then the least we can do is put our bad-habits towards a little bit of good.