HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — Raising the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old in Virginia isn’t the only major change lawmakers made this year that could impact children’s health.
A bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Ralph Northam requires school boards to create and implement policies banning the use of tobacco and nicotine vapor products from being used on public school grounds, on buses as well as at school-sponsored activities on and off-campus.
When the law takes effect July 1, Virginia will become one of 19 states to have a full school tobacco ban.
Teens are using vaping products in record numbers, with 37 percent of 12th graders using one in the past year according to a National Institute on Drug Abuse report from 2018.
This change was done in part because of students.
“I never knew how kids and people, in general, needed someone to speak for them,” Brynna Walker, a 12th grader at J.R. Tucker High School in Henrico County, said.
Walker isn’t your average “tiger” at J.R. Tucker. As part of Y Street, a volunteer group overseen by the Foundation for Healthy Youth, she spoke before lawmakers this year during the General Assembly and again today to make all school campuses tobacco-free.
“Ensuring that people are not allowed to use any tobacco products on school property means that not only my sister but other students would be able to play without worrying about their inhalers or how they’re going to breathe,” Walker said before a crowded auditorium today.
The current law only requires school boards to develop policies prohibiting e-cigarettes. Expanding it not only impacts the students but adults too.
“The entire school is 100 percent tobacco-free. Not just the students, but for the teachers, other administrators, the parents, any other visitor that come,” Del. Patrick Hope (D – District 47) said. “There’s a sea change happening throughout the country, and Virginia’s a leader.”
Del. Hope is one of the bill’s sponsors. When asked if there was any push back when the bill was initially proposed, he said even the tobacco companies got behind it.
“Looking at the tobacco manufacturers, knowing that the products they’re selling are harmful to kids, they also supported this effort,” he added.
Another bill signed today requires the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth to develop educational materials about the risks of using tobacco and nicotine vapor products, which would then be distributed to schools across the Commonwealth by the Dept. of Education. The hope is that kids will learn early on the health problems associated with using tobacco.
As for Walker, she’s a few weeks away from graduation and plans to attend Mary Baldwin University, where she plans to continue studying government and health.