Hawaiʻi Youth Advocates rally at Capitol to raise support for bills to end youth vaping
Youth, health advocates, and elected officials gathered at the State Capitol for a press conference to bring awareness to the youth vaping epidemic. Additional sign waving events were organized on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Maui, and Hawai‘i Island 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 of Maui, and Representative Scot Matayoshi.
“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,” said First lady Dawn Amano-Ige. “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 10 youth who use tobacco start with a flavored product, according to youth advocates. 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 Youth Council, which represents more than 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.
The 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 said, “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.” She noted that there were six tobacco prevention and control bills still alive at the Legislature. Referring to the bill ending the sale of flavored tobacco products, she stated, “We’ll do our best to make sure that it jumps through all the hoops and that it comes down to getting the bill to the Governor’s desk for his signature.”
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.
To build support for their issue, CTFH Youth Council members have presented to hundreds of groups across the state, and have gained the endorsement of more than 100 organizations and community leaders.