Stories from the UC Davis community

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What is this project about?

Tobacco, Sustainability, and Stories is an Action Research Team (ART) under the annual class, Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP). The purpose and goals of the tobacco story project are to:

  • To increase awareness of the local, national and global needs for tobacco control and sustainable development through campus community engagement. 
  • To apply a social-ecological perspective toward a local policy - UC Davis Smoke & Tobacco Free Policy. 
  • To utilize experimental learning opportunities that can provide a much broader context into individual and population change locally, nationally and globally. 
  • To create a platform for student engagement that builds a culture of health and sustainability locally at UC Davis. 
  • To keep the conversation going about UC Davis’ Smoke & Tobacco Free Policy with the power of personal and collective stories. 

The project is modeled after StoryCorps

Why is "sustainability" included in the title?

The social, environmental, and economical impacts of tobacco are far reaching around the globe. It is estimated that worldwide more than one billion people are using tobacco products - “the only consumer product that kills roughly 50% of its users when used as intended” (Action on Smoking & Health). The health impacts of tobacco use are widely known and acknowledged; additionally tobacco is recognized in many countries today as a major preventable cause of disease and death and as the second leading health risk factor globally (Action on Smoking & Health).

Despite its overwhelming impact on human health, tobacco is not just a health issue. The social and environmental impacts of the tobacco industry are just as alarming. A 1999 study estimated that 4.5 trillion non-biodegradable filter-tipped cigarettes are disposed of annually (Novotny & Zhao, 1999). A 2011 article examining “social responsibility” in the tobacco industry found that tobacco companies were claiming to use “green supply chains” while continuing to utilize child labor and practice deforestation in developing countries (Otanez & Glantz, 2011). Tobacco farming contributes to 4% of annual global deforestation and in Malawi alone it is estimated that 80,000 children work in tobacco fields (Palitza, 2011). Furthermore, in developing countries, the smoking rate amongst women is increasing, putting more women who use tobacco at risk for gender-specific health conditions such as female-specific cancers, especially cervical cancer, irregular menstruation, earlier menopause, and complications and health risks with pregnancy (Mackay & Amos, 2003). Since women in developing countries less access to resources, such as health education, but generally have primary child-rearing responsibilities, the effects of women’s smoking impacts not just the woman’s health but her children and families as well (Mackay & Amos, 2003).

Consequently, it is difficult to find an individual, community, country, or nation that does not have a story to tell about the devastating social-ecological consequences of tobacco. According to Action on Smoking & Health, “Tobacco use impedes the three main pillars of sustainable development, including environmental sustainability, economic development, and social inclusion.” The Action Research Team project sets out to examine the inextricable relationship between tobacco and sustainable development using the power of story for sustainable change. We are collecting stories related to each of the three sustainability spheres and through these stories we intend to engage and educate our audience on tobacco’s impact on sustainable development. Storytelling for social change sheds light on global issues by demand the audience's engagement and empathy while also empowering the storyteller. Story not only shapes our views of the world but also gives us opportunities to change our world (Kennet, 2013). “Storytelling is public education that has the power to change societies" (Bryon, 2013). By creating and sharing a library of stories and interviews we hope the UC Davis community will gain a better understanding of the broad impacts of tobacco on sustainability.

Why start this conversation?


Nearly 40,000 Californians die every year from tobacco-related diseases.1

Nationwide, tobacco use causes nearly 1 in 5 deaths, or about 480,000 early deaths per year. That's our student population multiplied by 15.2

In countries such as Malawi, child workers as young as five years old are exposed to the toxic dangers of harvesting tobacco. A majority of workers suffer from "green tobacco sickness," or nicotine poisoning.3

An estimated 200,000 hectares offorests and woodlands are cut down each year for tobacco farming.4

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Meet our team

Shannon and Stefanie, our ESLP ART students

Shannon Fu

I am currently a senior majoring in Environmental Science and Management. Growing up, I have personally seen the consequences of smoking and how it affected the health of others around me. I got interested in this project because being an environmental science student, I didn’t know how tobacco and sustainability are related. Throughout this project, I have learned that tobacco is a problem that encompasses health, social justice, and also environmental issues. Having been a victim of second hand smoke as a child, this project is meaningful as it tells others' personal stories and journeys people have experienced. It helps encourage and promote healthier community as well as a cleaner environment. 

Stefanie Saflor

I am currently a second year Environmental Science and Management major pursuing a double minor in Textiles & Clothing and Communications. What interested me the most about this project was the goal of creating an archive of stories told by members of the UC Davis community. I have never been involved in anything like this before, and coming into this project knew very little about smoking and tobacco. What I've learned through collecting interviews and stories is that smoking not only affects our health and wellness, but also affects the way we live our lives and view change. The Tobacco, Sustainability & Stories project has increased my awareness of the social, health, and environmental impacts of tobacco. More so, it has opened my eyes to the changes students and staff are making to change the culture on campus.