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Virginia Beach High School Students Encourage Park Leaders to Create Tobacco-Free Parklands at the 2022 Virginia Recreation & Park Society Annual Conference

Virginia Beach, VA (November 10, 2022) – This week, Virginia park recreation experts and leaders from across the commonwealth gathered in Virginia Beach for the Virginia Recreation & Park Society‘s (VRPS) Annual Conference. Amidst the three days of presentations, exhibit halls, and networking opportunities, were two local Virginia Beach high school students and Y Street members Jessica McMillan and Christopher Silmon. Jessica, a senior at Manor High School,  and Christopher, a sophomore at Tallwood High School, participated in the conference’s Director’s Forum to present directly to park directors from across the state and encourage them to partner with the Share The Air campaign.

Y Street is the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth’s (VFHY) statewide volunteer initiative for high school students. Y Street members like Jessica and Christopher strive to make sure Virginians have equitable access to clean and healthy spaces and do this by promoting the Share The Air campaign. Share The Air aims to create 100% tobacco-free and e-cigarette-free parklands by encouraging Parks and Recreation Departments and other local government officials to adopt tobacco-free and e-cigarette-free outdoor policies.

Jessica and Christopher shared a variety of data and research highlighting that a strong majority of Virginians (89%) agree that parklands should be tobacco-free and vapor-free. Additionally, Virginians (88%) feel strongly that secondhand smoke is a dangerous hazard outdoors, and that tobacco and e-cigarette products cause damage to the environment (91%). Past research has shown that these products do harm the environment in a variety of ways. Waste from tobacco products accounts for nearly 40% of all littered items, making them the most littered items in the United States. These products are toxic to many wildlife as well as children. Additionally, discarded tobacco and e-cigarette products have also been known to lead to wildfires which pose a significant risk to parklands and other natural spaces.

Christopher and Jessica made sure to leave a strong impression on the park directors in attendance. When asked about their involvement in promoting tobacco-free and e-cigarette-free public spaces via the campaign, Christopher noted “Share The Air allows me to make a change in the community and keep the people and parklands I care about safe from secondhand smoke.” Jessica noted that she felt compelled to present to the states’ park directors when offered the opportunity. She mentioned that because she and her friends have asthma that “they are cautious in public spaces because of secondhand smoke.” Jessica pointed out that she hopes more parks and recreation departments and localities will adopt tobacco and e-cigarette-free policies in the future to help protect the health of her and the other over 570,000 individuals who are reported to have asthma in Virginia.

Continued work and dedication from Y Street members like Jessica and Christopher are helping to promote and create healthier outdoor spaces that all Virginians are able to enjoy.

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About the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY)

Established in 1999 by the Virginia General Assembly, the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth empowers Virginia’s youth to make healthy choices by reducing and preventing youth tobacco and nicotine use, substance use, and childhood obesity.

VFHY takes a comprehensive approach to prevention work that includes reaching about 50,000 children each year through classroom-based prevention programs in public schools, after-school programs, community centers, day cares and prevention programs across the state. VFHY’s award-winning marketing campaigns deliver prevention messaging to more than 500,000 children annually. In addition, VFHY’s research program provides scientific insight on methods to effectively reduce tobacco use. Since 2002, VFHY has funded 40 large research projects at universities throughout Virginia. For more information, visit www.vfhy.org.

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