By The Associated Press
RICHMOND — School boards must ban any tobacco or other forms of nicotine products from all school property and school-sponsored events under legislation signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Ralph Northam.
Northam signed HB 2384 and SB 1295, which expands existing law to include a wider variety of nicotine products, such as vapes and e-cigarettes in addition to tobacco, and a broader range of school property, such as school buses and school-sponsored events off campus.
The new law, which takes effect July 1, will require all local school boards to develop and implement comprehensive tobacco-free policies.
“The recent and dramatic rise in youth smoking and vaping represents a serious public health crisis that requires our attention and action,” Northam said. “We have a responsibility to prevent our children from being exposed to all types of tobacco or nicotine-containing products.”
Northam noted that when he was a state senator, he led efforts to enact a statewide smoking ban in bars and restaurants. He sees HB 2384, sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, and SB 1295, introduced by Sen. Lionel Spruill, D-Chesapeake, in the same way.
“As governor, I am proud to sign this legislation that will make Virginia schools and communities safer and healthier,” Northam said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that use of tobacco products by American youth is on the rise—largely because of the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes.
Nationwide last year, more than 27 percent of all high school students used a tobacco product within the past 30 days, according to a survey by the CDC. About 21 percent of the students had used e-cigarettes, and 8 percent regular cigarettes. Some survey respondents used both types of products.
That represented a big increase in vaping: In the 2017 survey, fewer than 12 percent of high school students had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.
Northam noted that as of fall 2017, about 12 percent of Virginia high school students were using e-cigarettes—almost twice the proportion of teenagers smoking traditional cigarettes.
The U.S. surgeon general and the federal Food and Drug Administration have declared the sudden increase in e-cigarette use an epidemic. They fear a new generation of young people may become addicted to nicotine if actions aren’t taken to prevent it.
Virginia’s secretary of health and human resources, Daniel Carey, praised the legislation signed by Northam.
“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,” Carey said.
According to State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, a statewide survey found that 84 percent of adults in Virginia—including 75 percent of smokers—agree that all nicotine products should be banned from school grounds and activities.
“While 40 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,” Oliver said.
Northam previously signed into law legislation raising from 18 to 21 the age to buy tobacco and nicotine products.