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RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam has signed House Bill 2384, sponsored by Delegate Patrick Hope and Senate Bill 1295, sponsored by Senator Lionel Spruill, Sr., which will require all local school boards to develop and implement a comprehensive tobacco-free policy banning the use and distribution of any tobacco product or nicotine vapor product on a school bus, on school property, and at on-site and off-site school-sponsored activities. This legislation will be effective July 1, 2019.
“The recent and dramatic rise in youth smoking and vaping represents a serious public health crisis that requires our attention and action,” said Governor Northam. “We have a responsibility to prevent our children from being exposed to all types of tobacco or nicotine-containing products—as state senator, I led the successful, bipartisan effort to enact a statewide smoking ban in our bars and restaurants, and as governor I am proud to sign this legislation that will make Virginia schools and communities safer and healthier.”
Current law prohibits smoking on school buses and in school buildings, but does not address smoking on other school property, such as school grounds or school-sponsored events, or other types of tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes. The United States Surgeon General and the Food and Drug Administration recently declared that e-cigarette use among high school students is an epidemic that is leading a new generation of young people to become addicted to nicotine.
“Tobacco products do not belong in schools or at school-sponsored events,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, M.D. “This law will not only protect Virginia’s children from exposure to second-hand smoke, it will also help to establish a tobacco-free norm, allowing students to make better choices about their health when it comes to saying no to tobacco products outside of school.”
Between 2017 and 2018, use of e-cigarettes among high school students in the United States increased 78 percent, from 11.7 percent to 20.8 percent. As of fall 2017, 152,366, or 11.8 percent of Virginia high school students, were using e-cigarettes—almost twice as many as the number of kids smoking traditional cigarettes.
“I am pleased to see this legislation pass,” said State Senator Lionel Spruill, Sr. “Studies have shown that tobacco and vape products can have a negative impact on the health and development of children and we need to do all we can to insure our students are not negatively affected by these products while on school grounds.”
“Virginia is making a commitment to a 100 percent tobacco-free environment for our students,” said Delegate Patrick Hope. “This is a comprehensive policy that will positively benefit students, school staff, and parents.”
The Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY)’s award-winning volunteer group for high school students, Y Street, has been working on this issue for more than four years as a part of its 24/7 campaign. As a former member of the VFHY Board of Trustees, Governor Northam kicked off the very first 24/7 tobacco-free schools event in 2015 when he was lieutenant governor. VFHY and Y Street will continue to serve as a partner and resource to schools after the bill becomes law, providing schools with free tobacco-free signage and a toolkit with model policy language, event announcements, and sample enforcement strategies.
“The overwhelming support this bill received from Governor Northam, our legislators, and stakeholders demonstrates the importance of keeping our learning environments healthy and free of addictive and harmful tobacco and nicotine products,” said VFHY Executive Director Marty Kilgore. “Youth e-cigarette use is a national public health epidemic and it’s critical that we protect the health of Virginia’s students.”
When Y Street began the 24/7 campaign, VFHY determined that only 20 of Virginia’s 132 school systems had voluntarily adopted comprehensive tobacco-free and e-cigarette-free policies. Through Y Street’s hard work reaching out to school administrators, superintendents, and local school boards over the last four years, the number of school systems voluntarily adopting these policies doubled to 40 as of February 2019.
“The Virginia Adult Tobacco Survey found overwhelming support for this type of legislation,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver. “More than 84 percent of Virginians agree there should be a ban on all tobacco use on school grounds and at school events. More than 75 percent of smokers also agreed with this type of ban. While forty school districts in Virginia already have established this type of policy, the new law will expand protection to children in all of our public schools.”
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