As students returned to campus for in-person instruction after 20 months of COVID-imposed distance and hybrid learning, Waimea Middle School’s Principal, Janice English and Counselor, Lori Ching were alarmed by the sharp increase in youth vaping incidents.
The sweet aroma of chocolate- or fruit-flavored vaping products was often the initial dead giveaway on campus and on school buses, plus overly frequent requests from students to be excused from class to go to the restroom or get a drink of water. These “red flags,” coupled with the campus “coconut wireless” led to numerous student conversations, investigations, calls to families, confiscated devices, students missing class time, and disciplinary action.
Worse yet, students were likely to become addicted to life-threatening nicotine and exposed to arsenic, lead and cancer-causing formaldehyde and toxic metals.
What To Do?
Pre-Covid, Principal English had met with every class in the 6th to 8th grade school to talk about the dangers of vaping, sharing that vapers are 56 percent more likely to have a heart attack and may experience impaired athletic ability and “popcorn lung,” or lung damage; evidence that nicotine harms developing brains and can impact memory, attention, concentration, cognition and impulse control.
In fall 2022, with students returning to in-person learning, English and Ching discovered how many families and friends did not realize the number of children and young adults were trying e-cigarettes, the ease of accessibility, and how quickly users will become addicted due to the high concentration of nicotine in most vaping products. Another concern was understanding how dangerous these devices were. They can cause depression and anxiety, not to mention that there’s growing evidence that youth who vape are five to seven times more likely to get COVID-19.
Waimea Middle School partnered up with the Hawai’i Public Health Institute’s (HIPHI) Coalition for Tobacco-Free Hawai’i (CTFH) staff from Hawai’i Island and O‘ahu, as well as the Waimea Community Association to host a virtual “Vaping 101” information session to share the facts and dangers about the youth vaping epidemic. The entire community was invited to join in for a “live” talk-story on Facebook meeting, which was recorded for those who could not attend. The school and community association reached out to the entire community including churches and sports groups, and to date, more than 350 have logged in to watch the program.
The virtual presentation consisted of Kamehameha Schools-Kapalama Senior Josh Ching, a member of the CTFH Youth Council, sharing what he says to Legislators about the dangers of vaping and why flavored products must be banned. Next, CTFH Hawai’i Island Coordinator, Sally Ancheta shared current data about youth use on Hawai’i Island. CTFH’s Youth Education and Program Prevention (YEPP) Kevin Rameriz presented health effects and current news articles regarding youth vaping. The evening conclude with HIPHI’s Policy and Advocacy Director, Amanda Fernandes informing viewers how they could help end the youth vaping epidemic through policy and advocacy by supporting SB3118 which would prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco and vape products, including all candy-flavors, mint and menthol.
Fernandes shared, “Legislation to require the same level of prevention and control that is already imposed on tobacco products is where the biggest impact can be made to the problem. This includes restricting online sales and subjecting all vaping products to similar taxation, licensing, and permitting as required of tobacco products.”
Asked what her “Ah Ha!” moment was during the virtual briefing, WMS Counselor Ching quotes the advice of KS Senior Josh Ching: “We need to not penalize our youth for vaping. Instead we need to help them quit.” “Don’t be confrontational – don’t get mad. Instead, ask questions, stay calm and listen to what they have to say,” said Counselor Ching, and then if needed, get help from your doctor,” she said.
The team from CTFH shared the following resources with viewers: For youth wanting to quit vaping, they can use the My Life, My Quit Teen Quit program from the State of Hawai’i Department of Health (DOH). They can also text “StartMyQuit” to 36072 to enroll in the free and confidential support program.
Parents can find numerous resources at HIPHI’s 808NoVape website and the Department of Health Live Healthy Hawaii, Stronger Together.
To watch the “Vaping 101” talk-story event please visit Youth Vaping Talk Story with Waimea Middle School & Waimea Community Association.This link is available on both the school’s and Waimea Community Association’s websites and Facebook pages.
For more information on how you can be involved with ending the youth vaping epidemic, please visit Flavors Hooks Kids HI or Hawaii Public Health Institute. For resources on Hawai`i Island, please email Sally Ancheta at email@example.com