Smoking has been banned in and around Fauquier County schools for years. But a change approved by the school board Tuesday expands that policy to make schools tobacco- and e-cigarette free 24/7.
“24/7” is a Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth campaign aimed at encouraging school divisions to adopt “100 percent, comprehensive tobacco- and e-cigarette-free” policies explicitly prohibiting not only smoking but all tobacco-delivery devices, including electronic cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Schools are urged to apply the rule to all school-sponsored events held both on and off school property at all times -- or 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In a unanimous vote Jan. 16, the Fauquier County School Board did just that, becoming the 34th school division in the state to make such a change.
In effect, the new policy bans smoking, dipping and the use of e-cigarettes, as well as “bidis” (unprocessed tobacco wrapped in leaves) or blunts (hallowed out cigars), on school property, in school vehicles and at outdoor or off-campus school events. The rule applies to everyone: students, staff, contractors and visitors.
Students found breaking the rule can face punishment under the school disciplinary codes. Adults will be kindly asked refrain from using tobacco at school-sponsored events, according to the new policy.
The change was spearheaded by Fauquier High School students who are members of “Y Street,” a “healthy youth teen volunteer group,” also sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth.
About 50 students are involved in Y Street at Fauquier High School, according to sponsor Karen Chipman, an FHS business teacher.
Two FHS students led the effort to expand the school division policy: senior Kit Harmon, 17, and junior Nicole Barthalomaus, 16. The two said they became involved in “Y Street” to promote healthier lifestyles among their fellow classmates.
The two said the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, is on the rise among local teens. “Juul” brand vaping pipes are particularly popular. The pipes are small enough to be easily hidden in a student’s fist. They’re so small, in fact, that teachers sometimes mistake them for flash drives when teens slip them into their laptop USB ports to recharge them.
Harmon said students tend to think vaping isn’t as dangerous as smoking.
“Cigarettes are seen as gross,” she explained. “But vaping isn’t considered as bad.”
Statewide, nearly 20 percent of Virginia teens use e-cigarettes, according to the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth.
Harmon and Barthalomaus said they hope the “24/7” campaign will raise awareness of the risks of all kinds of tobacco use. The Y Street club is planning a promotional event Feb. 14 to spread the word about the new policy and will soon post signs on campus that explain and promote the new rules.
Y Street members also intend to share information about smoking-cessation resources available to local teens, Harmon said.
“If we spread the message a little bit more, I’m sure other kids will care about having a healthy environment, too, and will be less willing to do it,” Harmon said of smoking and vaping.
When students lead such efforts, they tend to be more effective, Chipman said.
“When kids are the ones talking about it, instead of adults, other kids tend to pay more attention,” she said.
Fauquier County Superintendent David Jeck said the school division’s existing no-smoking policy needed to be more specific to eliminate perceived “gray areas” about e-cigarettes, dipping and smoking at outdoor events.
“When we say we’re tobacco-free, that means when you’re on campus and when you’re at a school event that’s not on campus,” Jeck said. “People are not supposed to be using tobacco at our schools or at our school events no matter who they are, no matter where they are.”
Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org.