LEMAY, Mo. — McKenzie Mitchell, 17, sees other teens vaping all over social media and in the hallways at school.

“They think they're funny,” said Mitchell, a senior at Hancock Place High School. “They think it's cool to do it in class or in the bathrooms.”

When Mitchell sees her friends or classmates vaping, she uses positive peer pressure.

“I try to strongly discourage students from using it. If I see it, I say, ‘Come on, what are you doing?’” she said.

Administrators in the Hancock Place School District are trying a new approach when they find students vaping.

“I have to ask the question, 'Does it make sense to send a student home on a suspension for vaping?' To me, that answer is a resounding no,” said Hancock Place School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Carl.

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Instead, students who are caught vaping will face an in-school suspension. During the suspension, teens will learn about the dangers of vaping. They’ll watch videos, take quizzes and talk with counselors, if needed.

“My hope is that our students take it very seriously, that it's not something as simple as puffing out white smoke with no consequence to them and their body,” Carl said.

A community-based drug prevention and education organization called Step Up St. Louis helped develop the program at Hancock Place. The organization is also educating parents.

“Vaping starts in middle school, and some cases, starts in elementary school,” said Katie Spradling, the teen programs coordinator at Step Up St. Louis.

They’re giving tool-kits to parents. Inside are urine and saliva testing kits that can detect nicotine or THC. More importantly, there are information sheets with advice on talking to kids about vaping.

“Students are not going to respond well if you just test them,” Spradling said. “You need to have a conversation about why you feel they could be using.”

St. Louis Children's Hospital reported doctors have recently treated two kids with respiratory illnesses that doctors believe are related to vaping.

For more information: https://www.stepupstl.org/

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