Maui News

New Hawaiʻi Dept. of Health campaign shares effects of teen vaping on mental health

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Nicotine Brain Explained. PC: Hawaii Department of Health / Escape the Vape Hawaiʻi

“Decades of deceptive marketing has created the false impression of tobacco as a stress reliever – and youth are particularly susceptible to celebrity and peer influence,” according to the state Department of Health. Now the department has launched a campaign that shares the effects of teen vaping on mental health in Hawaiʻi.

The e-cigarette industry more than tripled their spending on advertising and promotion from 2015 to 2018, which included a 15-fold increase in paying celebrity endorsers, social media
influencers, brand ambassadors, and other endorsers, according to the DOH.

In the same time period, nicotine concentration increased by 60% and more for the cartridge-type products popular among youth in Hawaiʻi. To combat misinformation around tobacco use, and amidst public health and mental health concerns, the Hawai‘i State Department of Health recently launched a new campaign, “Nicotine Brain Explained,” to correct public misperceptions.


The campaign aims to reach and educate Hawai‘i youth, especially those ages 13-18, about the negative impact nicotine has on mental health through a multi-channel approach, delivering prevention messages to counter pro-vaping imagery on channels that feature pro-vape content, and inspire Hawai‘i’s youth to live vape-free.

“Studies show that nicotine use by adolescents negatively affects their brain development. If teens are already experiencing depression or other mental health issues, vaping can worsen these conditions,” said Lola Irvin, Department of Health Administrator of the Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “We know that many Hawai‘i teens may not realize how much nicotine they may be vaping and how vaping harms their health and overall well-being. The use of vape products can complicate existing mental health issues, and a vicious cycle of nicotine withdrawal symptoms includes anxiety, depression, problems concentrating, and sleep and mood disorders. We hope to build on the success of our previous vaping prevention campaign while focusing on educating teens and their ohana on the serious mental health risks of vaping.”

“Nicotine Brain Explained” shares how vaping affects the brain in a way that can impact mental health by:

  • Making feelings of stress worse over time: nicotine triggers receptors in the brain that lead to the production of cortisol, which helps regulate a body’s response to stress.
  • Negatively affecting how you feel: nicotine throws off the natural balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, like dopamine and serotonin, that affect how you feel, leaving you feeling unhappy and not like yourself.
  • Increasing risk for mood disorders long-term: nicotine modifies brain circuits in a way that has been associated with an increased risk of mood disorders long-term.

To help ensure that “Nicotine Brain Explained” would motivate Hawai‘i youth not to vape, the ad was tested with teen focus group participants. Additionally, several teens from Hawai‘i provided feedback on the campaign as it was being developed. During research, one female teen vape user shared, “I know that some kids vape to try and get their mind off of things, or maybe calm themselves down. So, I think that’s some reasons why kids vape. But I don’t think they realize it can actually harm them mentally.”

A male teen who is at-risk for vaping added, “People vape to ease their mind or stress. This [ad] might help people come to realize that what they think is right is actually not.”

For Hawai‘i teens that would like to quit smoking or vaping, the Hawai‘i Tobacco Quitline continues to offer “My Life, My Quit,” a free program with trained coaches to help youth up to 17 years-old quit smoking or vaping. Teens can sign up by texting “Start My Quit” to 36072. Teens, parents, guardians, and health care providers can also visit for more information.


Additionally, the Hawai‘i Tobacco Quitline offers anyone 18 years or older free help and resources to quit tobacco, including free nicotine replacement patches, gum, and lozenges.

For more information on Escape The Vape Hawai‘i, please visit


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