Youth, health advocates, and elected officials gathered at the Hawai‘i State Capitol for a press conference to bring awareness to the youth vaping epidemic on March 14, 2022 as part of Take Down Tobacco Day. Sign waving events were organized on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Maui, and Hawai‘i Islands to build support across the state. Speakers at the State Capitol included Zoey Duan and Logan Lau of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i Youth Council, First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige, Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, Senator Roz Baker, and Representative Scot Matayoshi.
First lady Dawn Amano-Ige said, “Vaping products continue to remain unregulated in Hawai‘i and more and more kids who never smoked are trying it for the first time, so we must continue supporting the work that the Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i Youth Council is doing.” She added, “With all of your help, we can make sure … this generation becomes the first nicotine-free generation for all time to come, and I know that we can get there.”
In Hawai‘i, eight in ten youth who use tobacco start with a flavored product. E-cigarettes come in thousands of fun, kid-friendly flavors, and are one of the driving forces in youth e-cigarette use. The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i (CTFH) Youth Council, which represents over 80 students from across the state, has proposed measures to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product and end the sale of flavored tobacco products.
CTFH Youth Council member Zoey Duan has been working on this issue since her freshman year of high school. Now a senior at Punahou, Duan says, “I hope by the end of my senior year we will finally see action by the Legislature. I hope that the voices of our generation will be heard and ours will be the last generation to be subjected to the exploitation by the tobacco industry.”
Referencing the number of youth currently using e-cigarettes in Hawai‘i, Lieutenant Governor Josh Green stated, “Many many children end up addicted to nicotine because of flavored tobacco. When one in three of our high schoolers are doing something that will lead to serious health problems, and one in five of our middle schoolers are doing something that will lead to serious health problems, we should do all that we can to help them.”
Senator Rosalyn Baker, who sponsored SB 2278 to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes, said, “Whether it’s e-cigarettes or whether it’s traditional cigars or cigarettes, we need to do everything that we can to step up and make sure that there is no more addiction in our state that comes from tobacco.”
Youth Council members primarily used the event to focus on two remaining bills that would prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, in Hawai‘i: HB 1570 and SB 3118.
After noting that all flavors in combustible cigarettes, with the exception of menthol, were banned years ago to prevent the predatory marketing to children, Representative Scot Matayoshi, who introduced HB 1570, said, “We know how dangerous nicotine is to developing brains, we know how addictive it is… and yet we stand here as a Legislature not banning flavored products … This is a long-term health consequence for our entire society, and the students here fighting for this ban today, are the ones that are going to be stuck with the bill and stuck with the health consequences.”
Kamehameha Schools senior Logan Lau, CTFH Youth Council member, sees menthol as a social justice issue, adding that “As a Native Hawaiian youth, it pains me to know that 42% of Native Hawaiian youth are using e-cigarettes.” Lau stated that ending the sale of all flavored products will “put an end to a long legacy of tobacco companies exploiting children and racial minorities for profit.”
Dr. Bryan Mih, a pediatrician at Kapiolani Medical Center, is also concerned about the high rates of e-cigarette use among Hawai‘i youth. “Once young people are addicted to nicotine, it is extremely difficult to quit. By eliminating these [flavored tobacco] products from Hawai‘i, we have the chance to improve the health of many, especially of our keiki,” said Mih.
Know a youth that might be interested in getting involved with the Youth Council? Go to hiphi.org/youth to learn more and follow them on Instagram: @hiphiyc
For more information on the Coalition for Tobacco Free Hawai‘i Youth Council contact Scott Stensrud at email@example.com.