RICHMOND — Gov.  Ralph Northam has signed legislation which will require all local school boards to develop and implement a comprehensive tobacco-free policy.

The policy must ban 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. The legislation will be effective July 1.

“The recent and dramatic rise in youth smoking and vaping represents a serious public health crisis that requires our attention and action,” said 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,”?Dr. Carey continued. 

Between 2017 and 2018, use of e-cigarettes among high school students in the U.S. 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.