Students hold tobacco-free rallies

Published 8:56 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Students at Lakeland and Nansemond River high schools celebrated their school division’s tobacco-free policy on Wednesday during an annual Tobacco-Free Spirit Day.

The spirit day is an initiative of Y Street, the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth’s high school volunteer program.

“We are celebrating a school that’s tobacco-free and how amazing it is to be tobacco-free,” said Hunter Turley, a Lakeland High School student. “This is an amazing opportunity to stand up and show the school we are tobacco-free.”

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Students wrote their name on sticky notes during their lunch period and added it to a 24/7 poster, indicating their pledge to be tobacco-free in and out of school. They also took surveys measuring their knowledge of the school division’s tobacco-free policy.

Student volunteers with the Y Street program said the cause is important to them because they have seen the effects tobacco use can have.

“I have a lot of people in my family who smoke, and you can see the effects it has,” said Dorean Seaborn. “I want to do it so people see you don’t have to smoke to be cool, and you can also be healthy. We’re the younger generation, so we have to be role models to everyone.”

Volunteer Durell Reid started working with Y Street to get volunteer hours required for graduation but then discovered how meaningful the program is.

“Once I got more in depth with this, I kind of liked it,” Reid said. “I want to show people how much it means to be tobacco-free.”

Turley successfully campaigned last year for Suffolk Public Schools to enact more stringent policies against the use of tobacco and e-cigarettes.

Before, the division’s policy restricted smoking, chewing or any other use of tobacco products by staff and students on school property. It prohibited students from possessing tobacco on school property, which includes school buses, or during school activities. Employees were prohibited from using tobacco while in the presence of students on school property or while participating in a school sponsored activity.

However, Turley urged the division to remove designated smoking areas, make clear that on- and off-site events are included, require consequences for visitors who violate the policy and treat electronic cigarettes the same as regular cigarettes. He also requested announcements at sporting events, asking everyone present to refrain from using tobacco.

The School Board acted on Turley’s suggestions the very next month.

Only 25 school divisions in Virginia currently have comprehensive tobacco- and e-cigarette-free policies. Suffolk and Portsmouth are two of them. Signs in Suffolk Public Schools alert students, employees and visitors to the policy.

The policies prohibit the use, possession and distribution of all tobacco products, by all people, anywhere on school property and at off-site, school-sponsored events.
Y Street is not just about staying healthy by refraining from the use of tobacco. Students are preparing to start on a quest to encourage their fellow students to eat a healthy breakfast more often before coming to school.