A joint announcement Wednesday from the Hamilton County Board of Education and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department will mean that all school buildings and property will now be tobacco-free.

The new policy prohibits all tobacco and tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes (vaping), and all associated paraphernalia on all property of Hamilton County Schools. The new policy will also prohibit tobacco and tobacco product use in publicly owned or leased vehicles, or any vehicle used to transport children. The board approved the policy at the April 19 regular public meeting.

The policy covers all events on school grounds and any public seating areas including, but not limited to, bleachers, the areas immediately adjoining the bleachers, athletic fields, gymnasiums, auditoriums, and public restrooms.

“The board’s change in policy to make each campus tobacco-free is a positive step for our students and employees,” said Bryan Johnson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools. “We seek to educate the whole child for a brighter future.”

Additionally, all employees of Hamilton County Schools, as well as students enrolled in the district’s schools, will not be permitted to use tobacco, tobacco-related products, or paraphernalia while participating in any class or activities in which they represent a school or the Hamilton County Board of Education.

Signs will be posted throughout the district’s facilities to notify students, employees, and all other persons visiting a school or system facility that use of tobacco or tobacco related products is not allowed.

According to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 22% of Tennessee high school students say they use e-cigarettes (vaping), while 12% say they use traditional cigarettes. In 2009, before the popularity of e-cigs, the study showed that 21% of high school students smoked cigarettes. Ninety percent of all smokers started before age eighteen.

The board’s policy will impact both student-mentor and student-peer relationships. With fewer people smoking, whether adult role models or friends, young people will be less likely to mimic that behavior.

“This momentous policy change by the Hamilton County Board of Education will protect the health of our school population for generations to come,” said Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes, “The less exposure young people have to tobacco or tobacco-related products, the less likely they will begin using it themselves.”