The Tobacco-Free Hawai`i Island (TFHI) coalition, a program of Hawai‘i Public Health Institute (HIPHI), hosted 35 community members on Wednesday, August 29, for a first-ever town hall meeting on the state’s alarming vaping rates among youth.

According to the Department of Health’s 2017 Youth Tobacco Survey, Hawai‘i County youth have the highest rates of e-cigarette use in the state and multiple times higher usage rates than youth nationally.

The audience included members of the Hawai‘i County Police Department, the vape industry, middle and high school administrators, tobacco cessation counselors, retail pharmacies, as well a wide variety of community members, many of whom are actively involved in tobacco prevention and cessation throughout Hawai’i Island. There were even attendees from Maui County.

At the event, titled InSpire to Live and Breathe, introductory information about e-cigarettes and their health impacts were presented by Forrest Batz, PharmD, a former University of Hawaii at Hilo professor and current HIPHI Board Member. Trish La Chica, HIPHI’s Director of Policy & Advocacy, shared information and history of tobacco legislation in Hawai‘i. Kevin Ramirez, Youth Education and Prevention Program (YEPP) Coordinator, presented on the current vaping countermarketing campaign (808novape.org) and discussed strategies and tools to help reduce youth vaping.

After the foundation was laid, a five-panel discussion, moderated by Hawai‘i Public Radio reporter Sherry Bracken, shared perspectives from a local Kea’au high school senior, as well as representatives of Hilo Medical Center Primary Care Clinic, Waiakea High School, Hawai‘i County Persecutor’s Office, and the HIPHI staff from TFHI. A discussion with panelists and the audience followed the panel presentation.

Several participants were surprised to learn that vape products contain highly-concentrated levels of nicotine, which have negative developmental and health consequences for youth. Many were also surprised to hear that the industry has been targeting youth with keiki-appealing flavors, easy-to-conceal high-tech devices, and advertising on social media channels popular with youth.

The Inspire to Live & Breathe event was a great opportunity to bring up issues around long-overdue regulation of electronic smoking devices and important conversations on how to move forward with helping our keiki reject vaping altogether.