RUTHERFORD CO., Tenn. (WKRN) — One of every nine high school students report they have used electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days. That is according to a survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2021.

Local organizations are working to combat the problem by changing school policy.

Sarah Murfree, executive director Prevention Coalition for Success in Rutherford County, and Mozetta Jackson, vice president of health strategies at the American Heart Association said students need counseling not suspension.

“What we’re wanting to do is promote policy change in schools toward education and nonpunitive approaches,” said Murfree, referencing research published by the CDC.

“Right now, students who are caught in school vaping or smoking are sometimes suspended, given a citation, and referred to the school police officer, and those are not the best methods to handle the problem.” Jackson added, “It’s evidence-based that what students need to quit smoking or tobacco use is really education and counseling.”

The same study found half of the students who vape want to quit but find it nearly impossible with the amount of addictive nicotine they have consumed.

“Murfreesboro City School District updated their anti-vaping and tobacco policy and made a policy change from punitive discipline to supportive discipline where they will be implementing cessation programs,” said Jackson.

Youth tobacco cessation programs give students who want to quit the resources and support they need to break nicotine dependency.

The duo is also pushing for an age-appropriate curriculum to start conversations with kids in elementary school.

“Our data indicates – and I think this is the same across the country – that a lot of time kids are trying vapes at around age 14. So, we need to get to them prior to that first use whenever possible,” explained Murfree.

Providing schools with the resources they need to help stop the addiction before it ever starts.

If you are a parent wanting to learn more about vaping and other temptations facing teens there is an event you can attend. It is called “Stashed Away” happening June 15 from 3pm to 6pm at Murfreesboro Boys & Girls Club. Law enforcement will walk you through a typical teenager’s bedroom and suggest best practices on what to do if you suspect a problem.

Help your teen quit by contacting the Tennessee Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or text “quit” to (615) 795-0600 or visit this link right now.