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E-Cigarettes, Tobacco and Cannabis Products Are Littering High Schools

UCSF Garbology Study Finds Environmental Hazard at Bay Area High Schools Due to Increased Youth Vaping and Smoking

By Elizabeth Fernandez | UCSF.edu | October 10, 2019

E-Cigarettes, Tobacco and Cannabis Products Are Littering High Schools

JUUL pods, caps, and packaging collected at one Bay Area high school's student parking lots on one day. Credit: Kazuyoshi Fujita.

High schools in the San Francisco Bay Area are being contaminated by plastics and toxic litter from e-cigarettes, cannabis products and combustible tobacco products such as cigarettes and cigarillos, a new study by researchers at UC San Francisco has found. 

The study of a dozen Bay Area high schools uncovered hundreds of waste items littering the parking lots and sidewalks in and around the schools. In addition to reflecting the widespread use of these products among teens, the researchers say these items are an environmental hazard due to the heavy metals, plastics, nicotine, lithium-ion batteries and other toxins these products can contain.

The paper publishes Oct. 10, 2019 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), a scientific journal of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

cigarette butts in a pile
Cigarette butts collected at one Bay Area high school's student parking lots on one day. Credit: Kazuyoshi Fujita and Jeremiah Mock.

“We’re in the midst of an epidemic of teen e-cigarette use that is causing substantial toxic waste contamination at some high schools from teens discarding these products on the ground,” said first author Jeremiah Mock, PhD, a health anthropologist and associate professor in UCSF’s School of Nursing’s Institute for Health and Aging. He also is a member of UCSF’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.

We’re in the midst of an epidemic of teen e-cigarette use that is causing substantial toxic waste contamination at some high schools from teens discarding these products on the ground.

JEREMIAH MOCK, PHD

“But e-cigarettes are not the only problem,” Mock said. “Our research also shows that little cigars, cigarillos and menthol cigarettes are popular at schools with large proportions of lower-income Latinx and African American families. These toxic products are contaminating school environments and surrounding areas, going down storm drains and contaminating the bay.”

The United States is experiencing an epidemic of vaping, especially by youth using flavored products. Often, the vaping takes place in the bathrooms, classrooms and parking lots at their schools.

From 2017 to 2018, e-cigarette use among U.S. high schools increased by 78 percent -- from 12 percent of high school students to 21 percent -- and by 48 percent among middle school students, according to the CDC. Communities in the Bay Area have been at the forefront of this epidemic: for example, in Marin County between 2016 and 2018, e-cigarette use among 11th graders rose 155 percent, from 11 percent to 28 percent, reports the MMWR study. JUUL, the dominant e-cigarette maker, is headquartered in San Francisco. 

Read more at UCSF.edu