In October I blogged about the wonderful work our Middle School students were doing in conjunction with our annual Month of the Young Adolescent Action Research Project and Leadership Summit. This year students decided to focus on the problem of cigarette butt litter and the deleterious effects they have on our environment and on our health. One of the things our students presented to the adults who gathered at the Leadership Summit was to consider ways in which we might make Hoboken a Smoke Free Zone, or at least enforce the laws that are currently in place in our city.
Late last week, I was tickled to learn that the Leo Pelligrini, Director of Health and Human Services for the City of Hoboken, stopped by our school to let us know that the city will be posting signs that say “Breathe Easy – This Public Property is 100% Smoke Free” on all public properties where smoking is prohibited, and to give our students a sign of their very own as a thank you for their efforts. Mr. Pelligrini attended the students’ Leadership Summit, and spoke passionately about his efforts to help take the steps necessary to enforce existing “smoke free” laws in our town.
In this season of Awe and Wonder, I am awed by our students’ talents and passions, and I am grateful to our city for their responsiveness to the work of our students.
Please enjoy a text version of the speech about the problem of cigarette butt litter delivered by Eighth Graders in October, below.
Month of the Young Adolescent Leadership Survey Speech
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our annual Leadership Summit. This year's topic of concern regards cigarette butt litter and the environmental and health problems they cause in the city of Hoboken. For example, they have an enormous affect on air and ground pollution. The butts emit harmful toxins that affect humans and animals alike. As part of our Eighth Grade Action Research curriculum, we interviewed 88 people in Stevens Park, asking questions such as, "What are your concerns about cigarette butt litter in Hoboken?" We also counted how many cigarette butts were in Stevens Park near the streets, snack shack, little league field, playground, and the open field. After collecting this data, we realized the actual severity of the problem, and we would like to bring this to the public's attention in the greater Hoboken area.One of the main issues that we found around Hoboken were the immense amount of cigarette butts in public places, mainly concentrated in areas where children play, which was quite disturbing. Moreover, when we surveyed people in this area, over 83% people said that "no-littering" laws should be enforced in public spaces, such as parks. We found over 200 cigarette butts around Stevens Park alone, the majority in the playground. If we can find all of these cigarette butts within one park, just imagine the total number in the small community of Hoboken.
While interviewing passersby, several expressed concerns about this problem. Many of the interviewees, roughly 43%, said that they feel strongly about the effects of cigarettes on people and animals. They explained that they feared the inhaling of toxins from the butts and studies do, in fact, show that inhaling the fumes of "disposed" cigarettes on the ground contributes to asthma and other respiratory problems. Even brief exposures to smoke can make blood sticky and more prone to clotting. It can also lead to gradual destruction of the immune system. Animals also face this problem, as they often mistake cigarette butts for food of some sort. Pigeons and domestic animals fall victim to this the most, as they are exposed to the butts more than any other animal.
Additionally, we asked our interviewees what they thought the cause of this pollution was, and they narrowed their reasons down to two; one being that people are not concerned about the effects of their litter, and two being that there is no proper place to dispose of their cigarette butts. Determined to solve this problem, our class studied the littering laws of Hoboken, as well as restaurants, sidewalks, and bus stops in efforts to locate the root of the problem during our off-campus lunch. It is unfortunate that our prediction, which was that many smoking laws would be violated, proved to be correct. We discovered that it is illegal by New Jersey state law to smoke on the grounds of a school, however we found several cigarette butts near the bus stop, which is located directly in front of the steps leading up to the school.
Lenient enforcement of smoking laws in Hoboken not only affects those who choose to break laws, but also the people around them. We were unable to find information about any of the restrictions regarding smoking on school grounds. We feel that this shows the indifference towards the issue, and we want to raise awareness. You have learned about the damage improper disposal of cigarette butts can do, to humans, animals, and our environment. Forty percent of the 88 interviewees believed that more ashtrays in Hoboken could be the solution, whereas 36% believe that designated areas for smoking could improve the severity of this problem. We should use and value this knowledge going forwards, to take action in the state of New Jersey and the rest of America, and to do so before it is too late.In conclusion, cigarette butts cause a great deal of damage to our citizens' health, as well as to the environment. Additionally, they make our town look dirty and unsanitary. There are few laws that regard this issue, and those that do are enforced extremely leniently. As the people of Hoboken, it is our job to step in where others have not. We must create those rules, and more importantly, we must follow them. Stand up to cigarette butt litter for the benefit of this generation, and generations to come. Thank you all for listening.