SAN DIEGO — San Diego State University’s Center for Tobacco and the Environment has opened a new policy research center in Kearny Mesa. 

The center will address the lasting dangers of tobacco on public health and the environment.  

The center will study tobacco waste that accumulates in streets, storm drains, and inside homes and buildings and ends up on the beaches.  

“Tobacco product waste has been with us from the first day tobacco was used,” said Dr. Georg Matt, a San Diego State University professor of psychology, and the Center for Tobacco and the Environment’s director.  

The center will study the toxic dangers of tobacco waste found indoors and outdoors, known as thirdhand smoke. Experts said thirdhand smoke is the residue left behind from tobacco smoke, and when cigarette butts and e-cigarettes are littered on beaches, parks and sidewalks. The chemicals leach out into the soil, our water, and our ocean, while smoke residue can live on surfaces, in dust, and in the air for months or even years.  

“People smoke indoors, they smoke at home, they smoke in cars we don’t often pay attention to the residue that’s left behind the chemicals left behind, on the walls, furniture, carpets. Then people move out and sell their property and what’s left behind is the toxic residue,” Dr. Matt said. 

“It’s a major health problem and a major cause for preventive measures to avoid tobacco use,” said Dr. Thomas Buchholz, medical director at Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center.  

Dr. Buchholz said tobacco use, secondhand smoke, and even e-cigarettes can lead to a variety of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, head and neck cancer, or lung cancer.  

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States, plus 80% of cases are said to be caused by tobacco use, according to Dr. Buchholz and the American Cancer Society.  

Dr. Buchholz said the good news is that tobacco use has decreased, while treatments for tobacco-related illnesses are advancing.  

“Going through treatments are hard and they are very life-threatening, and it’s very scary. Sometimes people come with a feeling of guilt like I should’ve done this to myself over my lifetime,” Dr. Buchholz said.  

Dr. Matt said the new policy research center’s goal is to explore new tobacco policies by collecting data to pass along to policymakers.  

“How can we reduce the tobacco product waste that is accumulating outdoors, because it cannot continue like that. It doesn’t disappear, it adds up and eventually, we need to do something about it. And that’s what we are trying to do,” Dr. Matt said.  

The center will start work this month on rapid response projects, such as smoke-free outdoor dining.  

Scripps offers a countywide lung cancer screening at their locations. Dr. Buccholz said screening is recommended for people 50 and older, and especially for people with a significant tobacco history.