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Youth Advocates March on State Capitol to Advocate for Tobacco-Free Buffer Zones Near Schools and Playgrounds

HONOLULU, MARCH 20 — Today’s Kick Butts Day rally at the State Capitol drew more than 60 youth advocates from six islands to urge the legislature to pass Senate Bill 2304, which would establish tobacco-free buffer zones around preschools, public and private K-12 schools, and public playgrounds. Organized by Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i and its parent organization, Hawai‘i Public Health Institute, the event was part of a national youth movement to stand up to Big Tobacco and Big Vape.

Attendees received advocacy training, marched and sign-waved, rallied with elected officials, and participated in dozens of one-on-one meetings with members of the legislature.

Senate Bill 2304 will help to reduce the density of tobacco outlets around schools and other areas that youth frequent. Available data shows that there are more than 88 public and private schools in Hawai‘i within 500 feet of tobacco and electronic smoking device retailers. Many, including the youth advocates present today, believe there is a direct correlation between the density of tobacco retailers and youth use rates.

“Everywhere you look, people my age are vaping because everywhere they look, they see e-cig marketing that makes it seem cool and harmless,” said Sara Kay, 18, from Honolulu. “It’s scary because 50 years ago most people believed that tobacco was safe and, since then, millions of people have died and hundreds of thousands are currently suffering from tobacco-related disease. We can’t sit back for another 50 years, taking a ‘wait and see’ approach with vaping.”

To further tackle the rise of vaping, advocates also urged legislators to support Senate Bill 2654, which would permit and license retailers of electronic smoking devices (ESDs), tax disposable e-cigarettes and e-liquids as tobacco products, and restrict online purchases of cigarettes. Price increases are a proven strategy to reduce consumption while permitting and licensing would allow the state to know who is selling e-cigarettes in Hawai‘i and work with merchants to educate and enforce current tobacco laws. Restricting online sale purchases of e-cigarettes would close a loophole in our tobacco 21 law.

The Surgeon General has confirmed that e-cigarettes are not harmless. Their vapor contains nicotine, heavy metals such as nickel and lead, and the same compounds found in car exhaust. Nationally, however, more than a third of youth survey respondents believed vaping to be harmless (National Youth Tobacco Survey 2016). Furthermore, the latest numbers paint a bleak picture about youth adoption rates. In Hawai‘i, 25.5 percent of high school and 15.7 percent of middle school students use e-cigarettes (Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2017), an alarming increase from previous years.

“People should take vaping very seriously,” said Senator Rosalyn Baker, Chair of the Senate Health Committee, speaking to the youth advocates today at the Capitol Rotunda. “The youth usage rate for e-cigarettes is skyrocketing, in large part because of the absence of any regulation at the state or federal levels. We’re hoping to remedy that this session and having you young advocates here today will help get this across the finish line.”

Joining Senator Baker to speak to the youth advocates were the Governor’s Chief of Staff Mike McCartney, Representative Matt LoPresti, Senator Josh Green, and Senator Kaiali‘i Kahele.

“Young people are standing up all over the nation demanding policies that will change the social norms around e-cigarettes,” said Jessica Yamauchi, Executive Director of Hawai‘i Public Health Institute. “Our youth advocates clearly wanted to eliminate the presence of tobacco retail stores near their schools when they chose tobacco-free buffer zones as their priority for 2018.  They’re on the frontline and see firsthand how popular vaping is becoming with their peers, and they want the legislature to address it before it’s too late. ”

Just as many of the youth advocates were arriving back home, both Senate Bill 2034 (tobacco-free buffer zones) and Senate Bill 2654 (ESD regulation and tax) passed out of the House Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee today and will now be moving on to their final committee hearings.

Hawai‘i Public Health Institute (HIPHI) is a hub for building healthy communities. HIPHI helps others build capacity by providing issue-based advocacy, education, and technical assistance through partnerships with government, academia, foundations, business, and community-based organizations.


Kick Butts Day is a national day of activism that empowers youth to stand out, speak up and seize control against Big Tobacco.

Across the United States there will be more than 1,000 organized events where teachers, youth leaders, and health advocates will raise awareness of the problem of tobacco use in their community, encourage youth to reject the tobacco industry’s deceptive marketing and stay tobacco-free, and urge elected officials to take action to protect kids from tobacco.