When Belmont enacted its strict tobacco-free policy in 2011, the administration didn’t realize the litter from cigarettes would become immense on the outskirts of campus.
All tobacco products, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes are banned from Belmont’s grounds, so smokers often congregate on the off-campus sidewalks, sit on the walls along 15th Avenue or huddle together outside of Circle K, a safe spot to huff and puff between classes.
But what happens when they’re finished and it’s time to walk back to campus?
Surrounding Belmont’s perimeter, tucked between sidewalk cracks and blades of neatly kept grass, are hundreds if not thousands of cigarette butts.
Belmont smokers say they don’t have much of a choice.
“That’s one of the biggest things,” said Brian Smith, a smoker. “That there aren’t any ashtrays.”
Greg Pillon, director of Belmont’s Office of Communications, said there are, in fact, “four receptacles along the alley near the library on Belmont’s property bordering our neighbors, alerting of our tobacco-free status and requesting that cigarette butts be disposed.”
And while implementing these receptacles is a start, it seems some avid smokers aren’t aware of them. Four ashcans in one small area cannot adequately take care of all Belmont smokers and the many butts discarded by them in other nearby areas off-campus.
According to the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights national lobbying organization, cigarette butts are the most frequently discarded waste, with over 1.69 billion pounds of cigarette butts piling up as toxic, non-biodegradable waste every year.
Some areas, such as the crosswalk and sidewalks across from the WAC building, are considered public rights of way which prohibit Belmont from installing receptacles, but other areas could still be utilized.
Signs distributed all over campus warn students to please not litter. But if there are not enough ashtrays, then smokers are going to litter, Smith said.
“There’s piles of cigarette butts,” said Seth Schrader, a smoker. “They’re lining the sidewalk across the street from the WAC, and Circle K is just covered.”
Bongo Java used to be covered in cigarette butts as well until it went smoke-free with its recent remodel.
Bob Bernstein, owner and founder of Bongo Java, said the number of students coming to Bongo to smoke was actually one of the reasons it went smoke-free.
“We too have wrestled with cigarette butts all over the place and groups of folks hanging out on the sidewalk,” he said.
Although Belmont removed all designated, on-campus smoking areas in 2011, there are still certain places where smokers tend to congregate off campus.
Belmont ought to observe the smoking community, take note of where smokers tend to flock and then utilize waste receptacles for them where they can, Schrader said.
“You could at least have sections on the sides that are still easy to get to, and that have ashtrays,” he said.
While Belmont’s new policy has nearly eliminated the issue of secondhand smoke and tobacco use altogether on campus, the litter and trash accumulating off campus still impacts surrounding businesses and neighborhoods.
Belmont smokers don’t seem as stubborn towards the policy as they were in 2011, when groups were petitioning for its removal.
This time, they’re just asking for ashtrays because, despite the policy, “smoking is a reality,” said Raleigh Dale, a smoker. “Outside of this tiny Belmont bubble that we live in, there are going to be people smoking on the streets.”
This article was written by Jillian Jacobs.