24/7 Then and NowHello! I’m Olivia, a senior at Powhatan High School. This is my third year as a member of Y Street, and my first year on the Y Street Leadership Team (YSLT). I feel very fortunate to have joined the organization when I did because the past few years have allowed me to witness some incredible social change firsthand! Through the 24/7 campaign, an initiative to help all schools in Virginia understand, adopt, implement, and enforce comprehensive tobacco-free policies, we were able to accomplish some incredible things. Thanks to this, I have seen the impact that activism can have on a school, community, and state-level.
I was thrilled to work on the 24/7 campaign when I heard about it because although Powhatan already had a comprehensive tobacco-free policy, including e-cigarettes, many students would still vape or smoke outside of school and even attempt to do it on campus. It was heartbreaking to see my classmates exposing themselves to such health risks but our partnership with Y Street helped change that. Through collecting surveys, holding school events, sharing information, and posting signage, Y-Sters at my school and across the state worked hard to educate our peers on the health issues associated with tobacco and e-cigarette use and advocate for tobacco-free policies in all Virginia schools. All of the hard work paid off! Earlier this year both Y Street and the state of Virginia had a massive win: bills SB 1295 and HB 2384 passed and became law. This means that schools in Virginia are now required to develop and implement a policy to prohibit the use and distribution of tobacco products and nicotine vapor products, as well as include it in their student code of conduct.
Now, school environments across the state have drastically changed and for the better. At my school, two of my fellow Y-Sters and I were even able to attend a meeting with our administration where we were shown data demonstrating that reports of vape usage had begun to decrease greatly. Students, staff, and visitors are now more aware of the policy than ever and know the consequences and health problems they may face if they use tobacco or nicotine vapor products. The new law has also required schools to include disciplinary action in their policies and provide resources for staff and students to overcome nicotine addiction. This way schools can enforce a positive, healthy environment and keep their students and staff protected from health problems. Not only that, it has sparked conversation all around – not just in schools – on the dangers of vaping and tobacco use potentially leading to more changes. As Y Street continues to promote tobacco-free environments we can all breathe a sigh of relief.