Every year, the tobacco industry costs the world more than 600 million trees, 22 billion tons of water and produces 84 million tons of carbon dioxide. Tobacco smoke leaves cancer-causing residue in cars, homes, and clothing and tobacco waste degrades soil and contaminates water. San Diego State University’s new Center for Tobacco and the Environment (CTE) — which opens November 17 — aims to prevent, reduce, and eliminate these and other detrimental effects of tobacco.

The Center is unique as it stretches across different disciplines. Together, SDSU researchers from biology, chemistry, communication, economics, geography, policy research, psychology, and public health combat tobacco’s negative effects on indoor and outdoor environments.

Planned research in the center will study the non-biodegradable waste from tobacco products that accumulate on streets, flows into storm drains, and ends up on beaches. Additional studies will focus on indoor spaces, where the toxic chemical residue known as thirdhand smoke can linger for years. 

“Forming the Center for Tobacco and the Environment will help us disseminate information about tobacco’s impacts on human health to policymakers and the marginalized communities disproportionately affected by tobacco,” said Georg Matt, inaugural co-director of CTE and an SDSU psychology professor.

In June 2021, Matt’s team also launched the countywide Tobacco Product Waste Reduction Project. As part of the project, SDSU researchers work with local communities and governments to address tobacco product waste and create lasting solutions to protect neighborhoods from exposure to tobacco-related pollution.

The Center’s opening coincides with the Great American Smokeout, a global campaign to encourage people to quit smoking. By partnering with organizations like the American Cancer Society, the Center’s translational work will support the California Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Endgame policy platform, which seeks to end commercial tobacco sales and use by 2035.

Over the past five years, as part of the center’s work, SDSU’s College of Sciences, School of Public Health, School of Communication, and College of Arts and Letters researchers have generated more than $6.5 million in grant funding and published more than 70 peer-reviewed scientific articles.

The center will foster collaborations and community engagement that have the potential to expand research into new areas, find solutions to mitigate the impacts of tobacco on the environment and garner additional support from state, federal, and philanthropic funding sources.

“SDSU has a legacy of looking out for and improving not only the health of the local community but also engaging state-wide, nationally and internationally on important public health issues,” said center co-director and professor emeritus of epidemiology and biostatistics Thomas Novotny. “Through CTE, we can greatly expand this work to support innovative scientific research and policies that can improve health for all.”

Story originally published on SDSU NewsCenter