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Keynote Speaker Dr. Robert Jackler Speaking At A Podium.

2023 Annual CTFH Stakeholders Meeting Left a “Bitter Taste”

On November 8, over fifty supporters and members of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i attended our annual Stakeholders Meeting at the ‘Alohilani Resort in Waikīkī. The theme for the gathering was “The Bitter Taste of Deception.” Our keynote speaker, Dr. Robert Jackler, spent the morning weaving together the story of how the marketing and advertising power of the tobacco industry initially provided the impetus for adult smoking, but today has taken a back seat to the industry’s use of flavored e-cigarettes to continue to addict the next generation of customers.  In 2006, Dr. Jackler, a Stanford professor, founded the research group Stanford Research Into The Impact of Tobacco Advertising (SRITA).  Since then, SRITA has accumulated a collection of over 60,000 original tobacco advertisements that now reside in the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution and maintains an extensive online digital collection.  Dr. Jackler has provided testimony as a subject matter expert during the recent litigation against JUUL and was recently featured in Big Vape: The Rise & Fall of JUUL, the documentary series on Netflix based on a book of the same name.  The goal of his presentation, as he stated, was to “provide regulators, legislators and the public, detailed analyses of tobacco industry advertising campaigns to support informed policy decisions,” and he had a captive audience.  

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Robert Jackler

It became clear that Dr. Jackler was very knowledgeable in multiple areas of tobacco history, showcasing multiple examples of tobacco advertising from the early 2000s that used the exact same themes, messaging, and design elements as ads from the 1930s.   Dr. Jackler highlighted the ongoing decline of American cigarette sales since 1980 and the transition to e-cigarette brands by transnational tobacco companies since 2007.  “With the sales of conventional cigarettes declining, the tobacco industry is diversifying its nicotine delivery product lines to include e-cigarettes, heated tobacco, and novel oral nicotine brands. These novel product lines come in a wide variety of youth-appealing flavors. Once hooked on nicotine, youth begin to explore a variety of tobacco products, with some graduating to combustible cigarettes,” said Dr. Jackler.

Once the foundation was laid, Dr. Jackler’s keynote began to zero in on four main subject areas: flavors in tobacco products, menthol marketing, industry efforts to escape from menthol regulation, and greenwashing by tobacco companies.  “Tobacco-flavored nicotine products have little appeal to teenagers, but in droves, they are attracted to sweet and fruity flavored tobacco products,” said Dr. Jackler. He continued, “The way to reduce smoking in the adult population is to keep kids from starting in the first place.” Dr. Jackler also shared valuable insights into tobacco advertising and marketing campaigns specific to Hawai‘i, shedding light on the historical significance of menthol marketing in the state and correlating that to the current youth vaping epidemic driven by flavors.  The tobacco industry’s targeting of the African-American community is well documented and is often the driving force behind current efforts to remove menthol cigarettes from the marketplace. Lesser known is the tobacco industry’s similar tactics of marketing menthol cigarettes in Hawai‘i.  One of the older advertisements featured in Dr. Jackler’s presentation shows a surfing penguin in a 1935 print advertisement for KOOL menthol cigarettes. Dr. Jackler also showed a short film clip from the Jack Benny television show in 1953 sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes depicting a Hawaiian-themed musical interlude complete with a hula dancer adorned with a lei made from Lucky Strike cigarettes.  Tobacco companies have sponsored and promoted their products at local events and festivals in Hawai‘i and have incorporated Hawaiian themes and imagery into their marketing campaigns. A most recent example is the vape company Aloha Sun, whose branding, advertising, and flavor profiles closely resemble Aloha Maid and Hawaiian Sun soft drinks.

Dr. Jackler concluded his presentation by providing some insightful experience from his home state of California, where they have been struggling to enforce a ban on flavored tobacco products since last year. In a short section called Menthol 2.0, Dr. Jackler outlined the multiple ways the tobacco industry has managed to continue to keep their menthol-flavored products on the market by using different chemicals, different types of packaging, and the use of after-market additives like flavored capsules, flavored droplets, and flavor cards that can be inserted into a pack of cigarettes to impart a flavor to them. Overall, the presentation from Dr. Jackler was incredibly informative and had enough insights to inspire us to continue our work for many years to come.

Recognizing Outstanding Work in Tobacco Prevention and Control: Alaka‘i Awards

Following our keynote address, the program shifted to our annual Alaka‘i Awards celebration, which highlights some of the great work conducted in the past year by the many supporters and members of our coalition. This year, we gave out five Alaka‘i Awards:

  • Outstanding Advocate of the Year – Dr. Bryan Mih. Dr. Mih is the Medical Director for the Tobacco and Nicotine Cessation Program at Kapi‘olani Medical Center since 2010. Dr. Mih has been a dedicated advocate and supporter of tobacco prevention and control policies at the legislature for many years.  
  • Outstanding Media Champion – Denby Fawcett. Denby is a columnist for Civil Beat who has covered our efforts to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products in the past year. 
  • Outstanding Service Provider in Tobacco Control – Leonani Meyer. Leonani is a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor and Cessation Specialist at Mālama I Ke Ola on Maui. She is passionate about her work engaging in community outreach by helping marginalized and unsheltered populations. Leonani is dedicated to helping clients quit smoking, nicotine, and using other drugs one step at a time. 
  • Outstanding Community Partner – Hawai‘i Island Youth Academy. Represented by members Destin Martines Jr. and Zoe Gacayan, they were recognized  for their tobacco prevention and advocacy work this year.  
  • Kanalu Award (new to tobacco control) – Ikaika Regidor. Ikaika is a Health Specialist at Papa Ola Lōkahi. In just the last year, Ikaika boosted communications about tobacco-related disparities among Native Hawaiians, recruited and trained several interns to expand research and program capacity, and worked closely on legislative policy with Papa Ola Lōkahi’s policy team, enabling the agency to have a consistent voice in tobacco prevention measures at the State Capitol. 

With lunch and the Alaka‘i Awards out of the way, we resumed our program and heard updates from our County Coalitions on Maui, Kaua‘i, and Hawai‘i Island. Leslie Yap from the Hawai‘i State Department of Health provided a brief update on the Hawai‘i Tobacco Quitline and My Life, My Quit Youth Vaping Cessation program. 

Closing Panel: The Ongoing Youth Vaping Epidemic in Hawai‘i 

Closing Panel (L-R): Honolulu Councilmember Matt Weyer, Dr. Robert Jackler, Samantha Lay, Mitzie Higa, Scott Stensrud.
Closing Panel (L-R): Honolulu Councilmember Matt Weyer, Dr. Robert Jackler, CTFH Youth Council Member Samantha Lay, Hawai‘i State Teachers Association Mitzie Higa, moderator Scott Stensrud.

By early afternoon, our final piece of the program was the closing panel featuring City & County of Honolulu Councilmember Matt Weyer, Mitzie Higa from the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association (HSTA), Samantha Lay, a Roosevelt High School senior and member of our Youth Council, and Dr. Jackler. The panel, moderated by Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i Youth Council Coordinator Scott Stensrud, made their introductions and then answered a series of pre-written questions and those submitted by members of the audience. Councilmember Weyer provided some insights and spoke about his experience during the meetings and hearings leading up to the passing of  Bill 46. Our Youth Council was instrumental in passing Bill 46 at the City and County of Honolulu in October, which aims to prohibit most flavored tobacco products on O‘ahu. Unfortunately, Bill 46 will not go into effect until the county’s authority to regulate the sales of tobacco products is reinstated, which must happen at the state level. However, by passing this bill, the City & County of Honolulu is sending a clear message that there is both an urgent need to end the sale of flavored tobacco and that they are willing to ensure that happens within the county.  Mitzie Higa led her introduction with a short video segment produced by HSTA, which shared some heartfelt and poignant messages from school teachers detailing how vaping has disrupted student learning. Dr. Jackler reiterated the need to be more specific in the language we use when discussing tobacco products, stating, “The tobacco industry sells nicotine addiction, which is a splendid business model. The industry has popularized innocent-sounding nomenclature for many types of emerging products. For example, teens call e-cigarettes “vaping” and believe it means it’s harmless water vapor rather than an addictive chemical containing aerosol. To help youth better understand the dangers of e-cigarettes, it would be better to call them nicotine devices containing nicotine liquid rather than vaping devices with e-juice. These are terms popularized by the tobacco industry to deceptively  imply that their products are healthy.”  Samantha Lay offered some of her firsthand experiences dealing with e-cigarette use throughout high school. Still, she was able to take Dr. Jackler’s advice and provide us all with some inspiration to take home, stating, “In our community, it’s important that we shine light on the persistent and detrimental nature of  youth nicotine intake, taking steps to further bring about calls of action, implement peer-to-peer education efforts, and advocate for effective policy measures.” Powerful final words for us to hold onto as the year winds down and we prepare to ramp up for the upcoming legislative session next month.

Kevin Ramirez

Kevin Ramirez

Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i Program Manager
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