Pristine and Tyra-Li Perry are the inspiring high school students behind Project Ho‘omana in Hana, Maui. Project Ho‘omana’s vision is to empower youth to make good decisions and healthy choices, especially when it comes to underage drinking, smoking, and substance use. As a part of their prevention efforts, the group invited the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i to Hana School in January to speak on the current youth vaping epidemic and our legislative advocacy efforts to help protect young people here in Hawai‘i. In the two months since, Hana has become one of the most active communities in the grassroots mobilization around ending the sale of flavored tobacco in our state.
People often think of Hana as small and remote, but Hana is a tightly knit community with a strong voice when coming together around an issue. As a result of the parent and community talk in January, parents, teachers, and youth alike were outraged by the tactics used by the tobacco industry to attract and addict young people to nicotine. So much so, that the Hana community has submitted testimony at every hearing on all ten bills addressing regulations for electronic smoking devices that were being considered at the State Legislature. Not only are parents and teachers submitting testimony, but middle school students are also submitting their own opinions and experiences for our lawmakers to consider.
When House Bill 2457, which would prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products, was scheduled by the House Finance Committee, three advocates from Hana flew to O‘ahu to speak in person at the hearing. Middle school teacher Hilary Lang and her daughter, Keola Yaeger, along with Claire Carroll with the Hana Community Association, woke up in the early hours of the morning to make the long commute to O‘ahu and deliver their oral testimony in front of committee members. With only two minutes to testify, each did an incredible job of articulating how a ban on flavored tobacco would positively impact the youth in Hawai‘i, and within their own community. Thanks in part to their relentless involvement in this legislative process, the bill was passed through the House Finance Committee and on to the Senate.
What began with two students who wanted to spread prevention education in their community, quickly turned into a movement that has led to statewide legislative advocacy. The Coalition is grateful for the people of Hana who have come together around this issue to make their voices heard. It’s working!