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It's lights out as UCLA enacts tobacco ban on Earth Day

UCLA is the first school in the UC system to implement the ban, following a call by President Mark G. Yudof for all 10 UC campuses to go smoke-free by 2014.

April 22, 2013|By Dalina Castellanos, Los Angeles Times
  • UCLA student Zak Baron, 20, tries to guess how many cigarette butts are in the cylinder at upper left. In the foreground are jars full of butts that had been collected in various locations on campus. On Monday, Earth Day, the Westwood campus became the first in the UC system to ban tobacco.
UCLA student Zak Baron, 20, tries to guess how many cigarette butts are in… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

Heija Yan took a drag from his cigarette as he approached Powell Library on the UCLA campus Monday, not noticing the ashtrays were empty and askew.

The graduate student in electrical engineering had no idea the university had enacted its tobacco ban on Earth Day.

"I know others don't like the smell around them, but I know [the library] is a popular place to smoke, so I thought I'd be OK," Yan said, flicking the butt into an ashtray.

UCLA is the first school in the UC system to implement the ban, following a call by President Mark G. Yudof for all 10 UC campuses to go smoke-free by 2014.

"We're very proud we're the first," UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block said. The Westwood campus and its students "are setting an example."

The Earth Day launch date was especially significant because "in order to take care of the Earth, we must take care of ourselves," Block said.

More than 1,000 colleges and universities have adopted tobacco- or smoke-free policies, according to the university. The ban includes the use of smokeless tobacco and unregulated nicotine products in indoor and outdoor spaces. It will also prohibit the sale and advertising of tobacco products.

Students at a midday rally handed out T-shirts that said "Breathe Well," along with information on where to obtain free nicotine patches.

The policy is more about educating and supporting tobacco users, said nursing professor Linda Sarna, who chairs the Tobacco-Free Steering Committee. Smokers are asked to abide by an honor system and will be asked to extinguish their cigarettes on campus property.

Support will be available to tobacco users on campus to help them kick the habit, but "the policy doesn't require smokers to quit," Sarna said. "They need to manage their nicotine symptoms in a similar way to a long plane ride."

A cigarette sweep by students at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability produced nearly 10,000 butts in a two-hour span Sunday. The butts were displayed at the rally and will be used in an educational campaign that will include air quality and ocean pollution. A separate weeks-long cleanup yielded more than 1,000 butts around Powell Library, which had poorer air quality than other areas of the campus, according to the institute.

Block said he understands that some people believe they have the right to smoke on campus, but that the overwhelming support for the ban was difficult to ignore.

"The opposition has been small, but it's there and we considered it," Block said. "But we're thinking of the higher good."

Many Bruins were not surprised by the prohibition.

"The school is known for being environmentally friendly," said economics junior Shezad Thakor, 20, pointing to recycling bins near Royce Hall. "Look around, it's beautiful here. Last thing you'd want is to attract pollution or trash."

dalina.castellanos@latimes.com

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