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FAQ: Tobacco-Free Schools

1. Aren’t Virginia schools already tobacco-free?

Virginia school divisions are required by law to have a policy that prohibits tobacco use on school property (Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act, Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended, §§ 15.2-2820, 15.2-2824, 15.2-2827).  However school “property” is further defined in the law as only the interior portion of buildings and in school vehicles.  This law does not prohibit the use of traditional tobacco products on the grounds of the school, athletic fields or at school-sponsored events on or off campus.   In addition, by July 1, 2015 all Virginia school divisions must adopt a policy to prohibit the possession of electronic cigarettes by youth on school buses, school premises and at school-sponsored activities.  A policy must be in place to also prohibit all others from using electronic cigarettes on school premises and in school vehicles. 

A 100% tobacco-free school campus policy is an effective way to eliminate all forms of tobacco use on Virginia school grounds.  This type of comprehensive policy would prohibit smoking and smokeless tobacco use on all school grounds, indoors and out, as well as prohibit the use of e-cigarettes or other alternative nicotine products. According to the 2012 Report of the Surgeon General Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, school-based policies and programs are an important part of coordinated, multicomponent interventions that are effective in reducing the initiation, prevalence, and intensity of smoking among youth and young adults. 

Some Virginia school divisions have already adopted 100% tobacco-free policies. For more information, consult the summary and full report below:


2. Why are tobacco-free schools important?

Tobacco-free school grounds make sense because they:

·         Provide a positive role model by adults.  School faculty and staff are tremendous role models for students.  A tobacco-free school policy shows a commitment from school administration to prohibit tobacco use on all school grounds. 

·         Establish a no-tobacco use norm.  Adult attitudes and adult tobacco use behaviors can influence youth behaviors and can be misperceived as acceptance.  Tobacco-free school grounds policies reduce youth observation of tobacco use and take a firm stand against it.

·         Support the prevention messages delivered in classrooms.  Kids learn about the dangers of tobacco use in school as well as how to make good decisions and develop resistance skills to refuse offers of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.  But students get a mixed message when they step outside on school grounds to see groups of peers or adults using tobacco. 

·         Provide a safe environment for students and adults by eliminating secondhand smoke exposure.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and about 70 that can cause cancer. Secondhand smoke can trigger asthma attacks or aggravate other breathing problems. 

·         Reduce litter from smokeless tobacco items and the risk of fires due to smoking materials.

·         Prepare students for the reality of smoke-free workplaces and communities. Tobacco use remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death in this country and according to the 2012 Surgeon General’s Report nearly all tobacco use begins in childhood and adolescence.   Youth are particularly sensitive to social and environmental influences with relation to smoking behaviors and the younger people are when they start using tobacco, the more likely they are to become addicted to nicotine and the more heavily addicted they will become. In Virginia, high school smoking has dropped from 28.6% in 2001 to 11.1% in 2013. Comprehensive tobacco-free school policies will help continue these declines and make our communities healthier.


3. Where can I get a 100% tobacco-free schools policy template?

4. What about e-cigarettes and vaping products – does this type of policy include those?

Yes.  A 100% tobacco-free schools policy specifically defines tobacco products to include cigarettes, cigars, blunts, bidis, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff, nicotine vapor products (e.g. electronic cigarettes), alternative nicotine products and any other items containing or reasonably resembling tobacco or tobacco products.  “Tobacco use” is defined to include smoking, chewing, dipping, or any other use of tobacco products.


5. How can I help promote 100% tobacco-free schools? 

Visit our 24/7 Virginia Campaign page to learn more about how you can help your school division adopt a 100% tobacco-free policy.