CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Fewer West Virginia middle and high school students are smoking cigarettes, but there are still many teens who are trying to quit.

Students and teachers with the youth-led movement RAZE were at the state Capitol Friday to rally support for tobacco control and prevention.

Since RAZE’s inception in 2001, there has been a 127 percent increase in the number of West Virginia high school students that have never smoked cigarettes.

“It’s working. If you look at the statistics, we’ve had a drop in teenage smoking,” said Tenna Gray, a teacher at Capital High School in Charleston.

Many RAZE members are aging into adults that chose not to use tobacco like Donald Grant, a student at Winfield Middle School in Putnam County.

“I grew up around it and I see the nasty teeth, so not an option,” he said. “It rots your gums out almost instantly.

Fellow classmate Mallory McGinnis said she wants people to know smoking is bad for your health.

“Because they’re addicting and once you try one, you can get addicted for the rest of your life, have health issues and it could possibly kill you,” she said.

Seven out of 10 smokers want to quit, according to RAZE, but it often takes many quit attempts before they are successful.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. West Virginia has the highest adult smoking rate in the country with more than 375,000 people.

RAZE members often participate in events to raise awareness in communities across the state. Gray said she took her group to Montgomery to clean up cigarette butts.

“We picked up cigarette butts through that town and filled an entire fish aquarium to let that town see it’s dirty in their town and how many people they’re killing,” she said.

The group’s goal is to help tobacco users quit in an effort to reduce tobacco-related disease, death and health care costs.

The campaign is funded and facilitated by the state Department of Health and Human Resources and the American Lung Association.

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