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State relaunches campaign to combat epidemic of youth vaping in Hawai‘i

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The Hawaiʻi State Department of Health and the Hawaiʻi Public Health Institute relaunched a campaign to combat the epidemic of youth vaping.

Initially started in 2022, the Stronger Together campaign calls attention to strategies used by tobacco companies that target Hawaiʻi’s young people. The relaunch is in response to a recent movement among the counties to regain their ability to regulate the sale of tobacco products in their communities.

According to the Department of Health, most high school students in the state who confirm they vape live in Hawai‘i County. According to the Department of Health, 22% of Big Island teens say they use e-cigarettes.

County Council member Sue Lee Loy

In Kaua‘i, it’s 16%, in Maui County 18% and 13% in Honolulu County. Among middle schoolers, nearly one in 10 students currently use e-cigarettes in Hawaiʻi, Maui, and Kauaʻi Counties, and about one in 20 students in Honolulu County.

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Hawai‘i County Council has worked at a county level to address this issue by passing Bill 102, which bans flavored e-cigarette products on the Big Island.

“We still need the state Capitol to act and return county authority,” said Hawaiʻi County Councilmember, Susan Lee Loy on Jan 10 when the measure passed. “Today shows the legislature that counties are listening to local needs and are ready to protect our communities.”

Historically, Hawaiʻi’s counties have been trailblazers in passing policies to regulate tobacco products. In 2014, Hawaiʻi County was one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to raise the age for the sale of tobacco products to 21. All four counties passed policies to prohibit smoking at parks and beaches before the prohibition became a state law.

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The ability of counties to regulate the sale of tobacco products was removed by legislation in 2018. However, in the 2024 legislative session, several bills, including House Bill 1778, have been proposed that seek to return county authority and allow appropriate action to protect keiki based on local needs.

The tobacco industry spends an estimated $22 million on marketing in Hawaiʻi each year costing the state $611 million in annual health care costs, $1.1 billion in lost productivity, and nearly $1,000 per household in state and federal tax burden.

Big Tobacco has capitalized on the social impact of e-cigarettes among teens and younger ages, through targeted marketing and constant messages. In one study, teens listed the most common reason they started vaping was due to friends and socializing. Advertising and marketing through social media often play on that perceived social benefit, like increased friendships, as well as the creative designs and variety of flavors. The growing evidence reveals that the youth are indeed the intended target market for e-cigarette ads, despite tobacco companies denying the data.

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“My cousins are in middle and elementary school,” says Zoe, a student at Kamehameha Schools. “These girls are surrounded by the menacing drug in the place where they are trying to learn the difference between good and bad. It is so common we don’t know what to think anymore. We are drowning in a sea full of nicotine-addicted peers, but we want them back.”

The public is encouraged to visit the campaign website for more information about the tobacco industry’s targeted marketing tactics and to connect with their local Tobacco-Free coalition to stay informed and get involved.

For those already addicted to tobacco products, the Hawaiʻi Tobacco Quitline offers free coaching and resources to support the quit journey. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or enroll online at hawaiiquitline.org. My Life, My Quit is a free program with trained coaches to help youth quit smoking or vaping. Teens can sign up by texting “Start my Quit” to 36072 or calling 855-891-9989.

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