PCC tobacco policy has unintended consequences
by Cari Hachmann
Cigarette smokers at Portland Community College must take responsibility for their cigarette butts or face greater fines.
Since a tobacco-use ban on all PCC campuses went into effect last school year, smokers have been pushed to the edge of campus boundaries, where they can light up off-site, often in surrounding neighborhoods in order to avoid facing school fines.
Neighbors of the PCC Sylvania campus in southwest Portland complained to college officials that migrating smokers were tossing their cigarette butt litter within the vicinity of their homes and in natural areas.
College officials responded last month with a modification to their tobacco policy that allows for “Good Neighbor Zones” where students and staff can smoke in dedicated, well marked places on the periphery of school properties.
Smokers are asked to dispose of their cigarette butts in designated receptacles located within the zones.
A Good Neighbor zone was implemented at PCC Sylvania, but has not yet come to other PCC campuses like Cascade in north Portland where cigarette butt litter is widespread.
“For each campus, it is up to the campus leadership if they will decide to modify their policy,” said James Hill from PCC’s office of Public Affairs. “For PCC Cascade, due to its close proximity to the outer community,” Hill said “they probably didn’t feel that it was needed.”
On the first day of school after spring break, between classes and passing rain clouds on the Killingsworth Street facing campus, a host of students rush to the back edge of campus just opposite a sign that reads “Smoke Free Zone,” installed during last year’s ban.
When their 10 minute break is up, upon walking away, many smokers plainly toss their empty butts onto the intersection of North Kerby Avenue and Jessup Street, cluttering the curbs and clogging nearby drains.
Ten yards away, the closest plastic ash can remains ignored, except for two stray individuals who remain smoking.
“I don’t think people realize that their cigarette butt goes down the drain, into the water system, and eventually, into the ocean.” says one irritated PCC Cascade student, Heidi, who prefers her last name remain anonymous.
Heidi’s friend and fellow student, Eric last name anonymous, says he thinks the cigarette butt problem is due to the lack of enforcement and monitoring.
“From my experience, I think they need to have more receptacles and empty them more frequently,” Eric continued, “And the smoking thing needs to be moved closer to the boundary line.”
As for the ash cans provided, it appears that the borders of the campus, including neighborhood grounds are instead the preferred disposal mark for many smokers, with cigarette butts scattered about sidewalks, streets and front lawns.
Though students are now subject to a doubling of fines from the old $25 to $50 for tobacco use in non-designated areas, and $75 in forested areas or other fire hazard zones, the lack of enforcement has left opportunity for significant littering, especially near residential areas.
However, the hammer coming down on smokers who litter may grow even stronger if a proposed law that Oregon lawmakers are considering in Salem makes the cut.
The Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved legislation that would levy a $90 fine for littering if a smoker was caught tossing a cigarette to the ground.
A supporter of the bill, Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie, testified that the river of cigarette ends that litter parks, beaches, sidewalks and parking lots around the state is an environmental travesty.
“People who would never even consider throwing their coffee cup or napkin on the ground don’t think twice about putting their cigarettes on the ground,” Tomei said.
Objectors of the bill, mostly from the Republican side, argued that anti-littering laws already cover cigarettes, and questioned why lawmakers were wasting time on trivial matters while Oregonians are losing jobs by the thousands, smokers or not.