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Take Down Tobacco Day 2023

After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions, nearly 100 Hawai‘i youth gathered at the State Capitol on March 15 with a message for lawmakers – it’s time to take action against Big Tobacco.

Students from five islands, representing 20+ public and private schools from 8th grade through college, took time away from their spring break to learn more about the youth vaping epidemic, how a bill becomes a law, and advocate for the Youth Council’s policy priorities to end the sale of flavored tobacco in Hawai‘i and regulate e-cigarettes the same as other tobacco products. 

The morning started at Hawai‘i Pacific University’s Aloha Tower campus with youth-led workshops and a march to the state capitol. Students were recognized in the Senate and House Chambers and joined by the Governor and lawmakers for sign-waving in front of the Capitol. Governor Josh Green spoke to the youth and press about the importance of their policy priorities and presented a proclamation to Youth Council representatives Chanel Matsumoto and Destin Martines, recognizing the group and their efforts on Take Down Tobacco Day. Students and community supporters also heard from Dr. Kenneth Fink, Director of the State Department of Health, Senator Karl Rhoads, Senator Brandon Elefante, Representative Scot Matayoshi, and Representative Cory Chun. The students spent the rest of the afternoon in small groups visiting with lawmakers and advocating for their policy priorities.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death, and each year, 1,400 people in Hawai‘i die from a tobacco-related illness. To raise awareness, youth advocates have been updating banners in front of the State Capitol and around the state to reflect the current death toll. 

To combat this alarming statistic, the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i Youth Council is supporting several bills that they say would help end the youth vaping epidemic and reduce the toll of tobacco in Hawai‘i. Among these bills is HB 551, which would end the sale of flavored tobacco.

“The tobacco industry systematically targets youth with flavors like Rainbow Candy, Aloha Sun Fruit Punch, and POG to entice kids at early stages of their lives,” said Samantha Lay, a Junior at Roosevelt High School. “This has resulted in a rapid increase in addiction and rising demand for these products amongst my classmates and even kids as young as elementary school,” Lay continued.

The Youth Council is also supporting bills HB 537, SB 975, and SB 1147 that further regulate e-cigarettes through taxation, licensing, and permitting for retailers, restricting online sales, and allowing counties to pass their own regulations. 

Representative Scot Matayoshi, who introduced HB 551 and HB 537, said, “Tobacco use was on a steep decline until vaping started introducing nicotine to our keiki through flavors like cotton candy and sour patch kids. Now we have a new generation of kids that are addicted to nicotine. We know how dangerous nicotine is to developing brains, and how it disrupts a student’s ability to focus and learn. We know this addiction follows a keiki through their life and the negative health consequences of this addiction. It’s time we, the legislature, do something about it.”

The Youth Council would like to thank the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, Department of Health, Hawai‘i Pacific University, and Hawai‘i Public Health Institute for their support in making this day possible.

Scott Stensrud, MA

Scott Stensrud, MA

Statewide Youth Coordinator
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