After playing a decisive role in the passage of Maui’s first social host ordinance, Maui Nui Youth Council members continue to advocate for public health issues that affect their community.

This time, youth focus is on ending the vaping epidemic and taking down Big Tobacco.

Aubrey Ahana, a member of the local Maui Nui Youth Council and the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaiʻi Youth Council, built on her experience advocating for the county social host ordinance to lead the state-wide March Against Menthol with other youth from around Hawai‘i.

Ahana organized a local March Against Menthol sign-waving event to raise awareness and work on the return and inclusion of menthol back into SB 1147, a senate bill regulating flavored tobacco.

March Against Menthol is part of the “Flavors Hook Kids” campaign, which aims to limit the availability of enticing, kid-friendly flavors in tobacco products, including vapes. While SB 1147 currently regulates candy and fruit flavors that youth tend to choose, the minty menthol flavor was exempt. This exemption protects Big Tobacco and harms youth: 64% of high schoolers who use e-cigarettes use menthol/mint.

“Hopefully Menthol gets added back into the flavor ban bill,” Ahana said.

Ahana and others from the CTFH Youth Council met with state legislators to discuss the legislation they’re supporting and how to successfully advocate for bills.

“It’s great to see the next generation get involved at a young age,” said Senator Gil Keith-Agaran of Senate District 5, on his social media account after meeting with the youth organizers of the event.

Over 80 people across the state participated in the March Against Menthol, from Kauaʻi to Kailua. The bill has passed out of its Senate committees and is currently waiting to be heard in the State House of Representatives.

“We had great media coverage and the youth and adults that participated had a great time!” said Scott Stensrud, Statewide Youth Coordinator for the Hawaiʻi Public Health Institute.

Organizing a statewide event in their home communities empowers youth to engage in the civic process and create the future they want to see. Elevating young leaders like Ahana is a central goal of the Maui Coalition for Drug-Free Youth, which coordinates the Maui Nui Youth Council.

The next March Against Menthol is scheduled for March 18 2021 in front of the Queen Ka‘ahumana Shopping Center. Stay tuned for photos from the event! For more information contact Andrea Snow at andrea@hiphi.org.