Mapping Smoking Violations on a College Campus: Implications for Prevention

College campus police departments face a number of crime problems that are uniquely common to campus environments. Apart from the typical crimes faced by many communities, such as larceny-theft, campus police departments are more likely to respond to alcohol-related problems (Sloan et al., 2000), such as underage drinking and drunk driving, as well as assaults, sexual assaults, and rape.  Such problems often consume many of their resources, particularly at nighttime.  Recent research has begun to use GIS to map the relationship between alcohol outlets and unwanted behavior in college communities, such as car accidents, violence (Rich, 1999; Gruenewald et al., 1996), and overall crime (Nobles et al., 2010, Lugo, 2008; Browell & Carroll, 2007). Such geographic analysis has been able to illustrate how problems cluster in space and time, which can aid campus police departments in preventing such incidents in or around campuses through proactive policing and other policy changes.

GIS-based research used to reduce serious crime can also be applied to other on-campus prohibited behavior. A newer problem facing campus police departments is smoking violations as a result of new policies banning outdoor smoking.  Over 1,000 college campuses in the United States have implemented total smoking bans as of 2014 (American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, 2014), and many others have implemented some form of partial smoking bans where individuals can only smoke in sanctioned areas on campus. This surge of campus smoking bans is a result of the current anti-smoking sentiment.  This anti-public smoking trend has rapidly grown over the past two decades and is aimed at reducing smoking prevalence and incidences along with protecting individuals from secondary smoke (Garg et al., 2009).

Research thus far has been mixed on whether smoking bans on colleges work (Gerson et al., 2013; Ohmi et al., 2013; Seo et al., 2011; Borders et al., 2005). Many argue that the lack of enforcement (Fennell, 2014; Procter-Scherdtel & Collins, 2013; Baillie et al., 2011) and awareness (Amerando et al., 2010) have been impediments to reducing smoking on campuses.  Enforcement is typically administered by campus police or by university administrators.  Colleges can impose fines for violating campus smoking protocol.  Campus police also can take a less controversial approach and issue warnings that lead to free consultations on quitting smoking.

If police were tasked with the problem on college campuses, and took it seriously, they would want to use their limited resources efficiently and effectively. One such way is to implement hotspots policing to target areas where smoking disproportionately occurs.  The assumption that smoking violations will be concentrated in space (and time) like any other crime rests on two premises.  The first is that individuals on campuses will disproportionately spend time in certain areas thereby increasing the likelihood of smoking violations in such areas.  The second premise is based on a recent study that interviewed non-compliant smokers on campuses and found the location of smoking violations were largely determined by convenience (Russette et al., 2014). Convenience for smoking may be manifested in areas where there’s comfortable seating, dining options, outside classroom buildings, or generally where students congregate.

To measure where smoking violations occur on a tobacco- and smoke-free campus, we decided that the best way was to use a GPS device to collect geo-coordinates of discarded cigarette butts as a proxy for smoking incidents. The co-author on this paper collected the data over an entire day at Florida International University’s (FIU) main campus in Miami, FL, (MMC), and then uploaded the data to ArcGIS.  From there, he created a kernel-density hotspot map to examine whether spatial concentrations on FIU’s MMC campus existed.

The spatial concentrations of 1,007 cigarette violations on campus, shown in Figure 1, revealed notable hotspots. Two of the largest hotspots on campus were near the administrative and classroom building 1 (A+C 1) by the center of MMC and the administrative and classroom building 2 (A+C 2) on the southeast end of MMC.  The A+C 1 hotspot (n=144) was located near a golf cart holding area in a crevice between the building wall and the carts.  Because these carts are primarily used by university staff, this may be an indication that perhaps smoking violations are committed by both students and staff.  The second largest hotspot (n=106) located by A+C 2, concentrated at the WPAC was found in an ashtray by the side entrance of the building.  Both hotspot locations provided concealment from walking patrons.  The presence of an ashtray, not provided by the university, by the WPAC building implies that campus police, staff, and students rarely travel through that area. The ashtray is also an indication that violators, particularly in that location, are either unaware of the smoking ban or are not deterred by the penalties for violating said ban.

Figure 1. Smoking violation hot spots at FIU's MMC campus.

Figure 1. Smoking violation hot spots at FIU’s MMC campus.

The remainder of hotspots were located near A+C 3, support 1, A+C 4, and in parking areas P3 and P5. All but one hotspot building, support 1, are categorized as classroom and administrative buildings.  Support 1, a staff concentrated building is located in the western part of campus.  In addition to these buildings and lots, three gazebos were hotspots for cigarette butts (GZ1-GZ3).

In addition to identifying hotspots of smoking violations on campus, we also created 25-foot buffers around each building (n=74) and parking structure (n=19) to quantify the number of violations in or around each structure. Buffers were grouped by type of structure to determine if particular buildings or structures are more likely to be places amenable to smoking violations.  Seven structure classifications were created as a result of the buffer groupings that include administrative and classroom; parking areas; student housing buildings; student-concentrated (e.g., student center and library); staff-concentrated (e.g., support/utilities); outsider-concentrated (e.g., public sites and stadiums); and “other.”

The buffer analysis revealed the highest percentage of smoking violations was predominantly around buildings (52 percent), while the remaining cigarette violations were in parking areas (28 percent) and on walkways connecting to buildings (20 percent). The largest number of cigarette butts, with an average of 14.1 violations per building, were located by “administrative and classroom” building types.  This can simply be explained by the amount of traffic from student and staff in administrative and classroom building types.  Other structures such as student housing, public sites, and support/utilities, showed a low concentration of cigarette butts.  Campus parking areas had the highest average of smoking violations (14.7), where people tend to smoke in their cars or outside of them as they are leaving or arriving to campus.

In light of these findings, the FIU police department could focus on particular areas of interest that disproportionately account for smoking violations. Such areas are classroom/administrative buildings (1-4), parking areas (3 and 5), and support building 1.  This research also suggests that other stakeholders have a part to play in enforcing university protocol aside from the University Police Department.  FIU’s Department of Parking and Transportation has the authority to issue parking citations and can assist in issuing warnings to individuals who smoke within its premises.  In addition, custodians should make sure cigarette butts are removed from campus grounds when cleaning it on a daily basis.  Discarded cigarettes and cigarette paraphernalia such as the ashtray, may give the impression to students, staff, and faculty that this behavior is commonly occurring on campus.

Figure 2A - Anti-smoking sign at FIU.

Figure 2a – Anti-smoking signage presently at FIU.

Apart from focusing enforcement efforts in hotspots, other solutions to reducing smoking violations can be as simple as raising awareness. Since arriving at FIU in 2011, I’ve noticed that many of my undergraduate and graduate students are not cognizant of the smoking ban that was put in place.  This is partly a result of FIU not emphasizing the smoking ban since implementing it in the 2011-2012 academic year.  At that time, they sent out emails and put up signs around campus (Fig 2a).  Unfortunately, many of these signs are faded or have gone missing.  More importantly, the signs’ messages and appearances could be modified to be more direct and distinct, instead of appearing similar to other FIU signs on campus.  Possible new signs can have clearer messaging (see Figure 2b) and be placed in

Figure 2b - An example of potentially clearer messaging.

Figure 2b – An example of potentially clearer messaging.

hotspots to remove excuses of misbehavior.  In addition, the university administration should send out an email to all students, staff, and faculty to gently remind members of the community that a smoking ban is in place and the university health services offers resources to quit smoking.


Our data collection strategy of collecting geo-coordinates of cigarette butts is not without limitations. Cigarettes smoked on campus, but thrown in trash cans, on the lawn, or left within one’s car could not be geo-coded (see Pires et al., In Press). That said, our strategy is a far more reliable and valid approach than alternatives, such as surveys or observational methods. Using GIS analysis to identify hotspots for prohibited or criminal behavior has been extremely helpful for police and practitioners who want to efficiently and effectively reduce problem behavior from the most serious to the most common.  It is our hope with this research that FIU can think about this smoking problem in a more strategic way.


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Steven Pires and Ronald Belance

Stephen F. Pires completed his graduate work at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, under the mentorship of Dr. Ronald Clarke. Dr. Pires is an expert on the illegal wildlife trade with a particular focus on commonly poached species (e.g., hot products), illicit markets, and the organization of the illegal trade. In addition to his work on wildlife crime, Dr. Pires has published several articles on the topic of kidnapping for ransom. In the majority of his research, Geographic Information Systems is applied to understand how deviant behavior is clustered in space and time, and how GIS informs prevention policy. Ronald Belance completed his graduate studies at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, at the School of Arts and Sciences with a Masters in Criminal Justice. He has also served as a graduate assistant for Dr. Pires. Mr. Belance is a crime intelligence analyst and has served as the crime intelligence analyst with the Boca Raton Police Services Department in Boca Raton, Florida. Mr. Belance uses Geographic Information Systems for crime mapping and for DDACTS (Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety).

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