Dangerous vaping problem in East Tennessee Schools

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BLOUNT CO., Tenn. A lot of East Tennessee school districts have found students vaping or with vape materials.

Woman vapes (Source: WVLT)

Tennessee has a state law saying vaping and vape materials are prohibited at elementary, middle and high schools, but students are still doing it.

Only a month or so into the school year and a total of 342 students have been caught either vaping or with vape products.

That number is for 13 counties across East Tennessee.

Read the full list of vaping numbers in area schools here

A Blount County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant oversees 10 schools and their resource officers across the county including elementary, middle and high.

Lieutenant Joe Seaton said he sees two to three vaping incidents per day that they can act on.

Our research shows that a total of 59 students in Blount County middle and high schools have been caught vaping or with vaping materials this year alone.

Seaton is calling this an epidemic in the school system and school resource officers are on the front line of dealing with it.

"I would say 6 to 10 possibilities a day that we see the vaping. You know you could walk through the high school hallways and see a plume of smoke and not have any idea where it come from," explained Seaton.

Since vaping is illegal for teens under 18 years old, the school resource officers do issue fines ranging between $10 and $50 and student caught go before a judge.

The goal is not to send students jail, but rather educate them on vaping.

And that's something Knox County Schools are working to do as well.

Jason Myers, Knox County Schools Executive Director of Student Supports, said they had a speaker address the principals talking about the risks of vaping, what to look for when it comes to students vaping and identifying the devices.

He said they are including vaping information in health and wellness classes for middle and high school students.

"What we're seeing in Knox County Schools mirrors what we're seeing across the country. I would say over the last few years we've certainly seen an increase in the use of the vape products in our schools," said Myers.

But it's not just teachers helping, some high school students are involved in a special initiative called "Project U."

They're creating public service announcements and providing information guides for students and parents.

But some students are still hiding vaping in classrooms and hallways.

Seaton said people can purchase a sweatshirt that has something similar to a CamelBak where you can blow into the drawstrings and it filters the smoke.

There's even a vaping device that looks very similar to a smartwatch, and just walking by someone wearing it, you'd have no idea.

Students will even take a hit off their vape pen and then blow the smoke through their sleeve of their shirt.

"The sleeve filters out the smoke and you don't see the smoke. So all you do is smell maybe the sweet smell of whatever the flavor is that they're using and you see no smoke you have no evidence," explained Seaton.

The only way for a school resource officer to search a student is if they have that probable cause.

But he said Blount County Schools can search whenever.

The takeaway: without parents help this problem isn't going to disappear any time soon.

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