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808NOVAPE Campaign Spends the Year at Elementary Schools and Unveils the 11th ‘Breathe Aloha’ Mural

Since the inception of HIPHI’s 808NOVAPE campaign in 2017, the alarming rise in vaping among Hawai‘i’s youth has become a pressing concern for parents, educators, and public health officials. While much attention was given to combating this issue in the high and middle schools for the first two years of the campaign, we would hear stories about vaping and conduct an occasional presentation at elementary schools.

This past academic school year (2022-2023) was the first full-year students returned to attend school in person since the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to turn our homes into classrooms and offices within the first few months of 2020. Vaping rates in Hawai‘i were among the highest in the nation, and we were left to wonder how having students attend school from home would impact youth vaping rates. Despite starting this year off slowly, with the first 808NOVAPE school presentation happening in September, by October our calendar was packed with at least two school presentations each week into mid-December. A pattern had begun to emerge: for the first time in five years, all of the schools receiving 808NOVAPE prevention education were elementary schools.

HIPHI’s 808NOVAPE campaign coordinator Kevin Ramirez posing with a group of students after a presentation at Waipahu Elementary School. October 12, 2022.
HIPHI’s 808NOVAPE campaign coordinator Kevin Ramirez posing with a group of students after a presentation at Waipahu Elementary School. October 12, 2022.

In early September 2022, Lorrie Kanno, the program director for Weed & Seed Hawai‘i, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to drug, violence, and crime prevention in the Kalihi, Pālama, and Waipahu communities, reached out to the 808NOVAPE campaign. Noticing an uptick in vaping activity at the elementary schools in those communities, Lorrie wanted to schedule some 808NOVAPE presentations as part of their Real and Powerful (RAP) series for 4th through 6th grade students. Our initial plan was to visit two schools in Waipahu; by the end of the school year, Lorrie had arranged 808NOVAPE presentations for eleven schools, many of which hosted us for multiple visits.

Prevention and education are crucial in curbing this dangerous trend, as elementary school students are already familiar with tobacco products due to a range of factors. While the tobacco industry’s marketing has normalized cigarette smoking and tobacco products in retail and entertainment environments over the last hundred years, the most impactful tobacco product influence for most elementary school-aged children stems from their homes and communities. One aspect of our 808NOVAPE presentation involves asking our student audiences where they see people smoking, vaping, or using tobacco products. Nine times out of ten, the answer we received from the students about where they saw a vape device or were exposed to vaping was in their own community, among their family members, and in their own homes. Even though the most recent surveys are showing cigarette smoking among adults in Hawai‘i to be at 10%, the lowest rate ever recorded, we are painfully aware that there are pockets within our population where cigarette smoking is still at a high prevalence level, often communities facing the most social and economic hardships. 

This fact only reinforces the notion that a comprehensive plan is needed to break the generational trauma and address nicotine addiction at its root. Prevention education must increase at all levels, from elementary to collegiate levels. We need more community events to raise awareness about the dangers of vaping for kids and teens for our young, middle, and older aged adult population. While the recent passing of SB 975, which finally adds licensure, a tax on e-cigarette products, and restricts online sales to wholesalers, is a step in the right direction, much more must be done to address the root causes of commercial tobacco addiction.

To raise awareness about this issue with our youth, it is critical to provide an overview of how e-cigarettes and vapes fit into the long history of the tobacco industry’s deceptive and manipulative sales tactics. Ever since the 1964 Surgeon General’s first report exposing the health risks of smoking, the tobacco industry has been looking for ways to increase its customer base and profit margins. With the development of e-cigarette technology in the early 2000s, the tobacco industry has been steadily growing its market share nationally and today is pinning most of its hopes for continued profits on vapor products. Reminding our keiki about the harms of cigarette smoking and being able to connect those same harms to vaping and e-cigarette products have been key components of our 808NOVAPE presentations.

HIPHI’s 808NOVAPE campaign coordinator Kevin Ramirez (left) posing with Waipahu Elementary Principal Aaron Tominaga (left, kneeling), a group of students who helped paint the mural (center), Weed & Seed’s Program Director Lorrie Kanno (third from right), and Keep It Flowing Media’s Ken Nishimura (second from right) in front of the Breathe Aloha 808NOVAPE mural at Waipahu Elementary School, May 15, 2023.
HIPHI’s 808NOVAPE campaign coordinator Kevin Ramirez (left) posing with Waipahu Elementary Principal Aaron Tominaga (left, kneeling), a group of students who helped paint the mural (center), Weed & Seed’s Program Director Lorrie Kanno (third from right), and Keep It Flowing Media’s Ken Nishimura (second from right) in front of the Breathe Aloha 808NOVAPE mural at Waipahu Elementary School, May 15, 2023.

The Breathe Aloha 808NOVAPE murals have proven to be a powerful way to leave a lasting impression on schools. In collaboration with Keep It Flowing Media, our first mural was done at Baldwin High School in Wailuku, Maui in 2018. By the end of 2019, we had produced ten murals across the state: four on O‘ahu, and two each on the Big Island, Maui, and Kaua‘i. All ten murals were at high and high/intermediate schools. Waipahu Elementary was the first school the 808NOVAPE campaign presented to as part of our efforts working with Weed & Seed Hawai‘i. By the end of the school year, we had done four presentations and were closing out the year by celebrating Waipahu Elementary as the site of our eleventh mural and first Breathe Aloha 808NOVAPE mural at an elementary school! 

Looking back on this past school year, it was the busiest year doing school presentations for the 808NOVAPE campaign. From September 2022 to May 2023, the total number of students reached by 808NOVAPE presentations was roughly 5,500. Schools that received presentations by the 808NOVAPE campaign in the 2022-2023 academic year:

Āliamanu Middle School
Dole Middle School
Fern Elementary School
Hawai‘i Baptist Academy High School
Honowai Elementary School
Ka‘elepulu Elementary School
Ka‘ewai Elementary School
Kailua Elementary School
Kahuku Elementary School
Ka‘iulani Elementary School
Kaimukī Middle School
Kalākaua Middle School
Kalihi Elementary School
Kalihi Kai Elementary School
Kalihi Uka Elementary School
Kalihi Waena Elementary School
Kapi‘olani Community College
Kapolei High School
King Intermediate School
La Pietra School
Lanakila Elementary School
Leihōkū Elementary School
Likelike Elementary School
Mā‘ili Elementary School
Maryknoll High School
Nānāikapono Elementary School
Pu‘uhale Elementary School
Sunset Elementary School
University of Hawai‘i at Hilo
Waialua High School
Wai‘anae Elementary School
Wai‘anae Intermediate School
Waimānalo Intermediate School
Waipahu Elementary School

To keep updated on the activities of the 808NOVAPE campaign follow up on Instagram @808novape or contact Kevin Ramirez at kevin@hiphi.org.

Kevin Ramirez

Kevin Ramirez

Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i Program Manager
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