Hawai'i's E-Cigarette Epidemic: Middle School and High School Students

Oct 31, 2018

E-cigarettes resemble highlighters, cell phones and USB drives, emit undetectable vapors and are marketed to youth as high tech devices in advertising and on social mediaCredit State Department of Health
Credit Hawai'i Department of Health

E-Cigarette use among Hawai’i’s youth is double the national average and the Hawai’i Public Health Institute conducted it’s first-ever full-day conference to address the epidemic.

Forrest Batz is a consultant and doctor of pharmacy a the Daniel K. Inouye School of Pharmacy at UH Hilo
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

42 percent of Hawai’i High School Students have tried Electronic Smoking Devices or E-Cigarettes and 26 percent Vape. Twice the national average.  Forrest Batz is a Doctor of Pharmacy at UH Hilo.

“This is a basic e-cigarette.  It contains a battery, a coil that is heated by the battery an absorbent material that is impregnated with a liquid.  That liquid contains nicotine and other ingredients and when that coil heats that liquid, it produces what kids call vape.”

The Juul – spelled J-u-u-l – uses pre-filled pods that contain nicotine equivalent to 2 packs of tobacco cigarettes.  Juul is shaped like a USB drive and produces no visible vapors.  The nicotine damages the young brain and more than15,000 flavors are available.  Annie Tegen is the Western Regional advocacy director for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

Annie Tegen, regional advocacy director for Tobacco-Free Kids
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

“They come in flavors like Berry Smash and Gumi Bear and Sour Patch Kids and things over 21 aren’t really interested in but kids sure are.  So, if we could end the sale, at least of those flavored e-cigarette products, we have a real serious impact.”

The Cigarette Industry spends 9 million dollars a minute marketing tobacco to middle school and high school-age students.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deputy director, Brian King, says preventing e-cigarette use until the age of 25 would create a tobacco-free generation.  But, he says, the industry wants to take your child on a vicious cycle of dependency.  

CDC deputy director, Brian King
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

“When we’re talking about what makes them popular, remember the analogy of the horse. The advertising brings the horse to the water, the flavors make them drink and the nicotine keeps them coming back for more.  That’s the trifecta of influence.”

Hawai’i Public Health Institute executive director, Jessica Yamauchi, says the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawai’i will push for legislation to ban e-cigarette flavors, already banned for tobacco cigarettes, and stop internet sales to minors.

Jessica Yamauchi, executive director, Hawai'i Public Health Institute and Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawai'i
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

“One would establish a tax on e-cigaretters, would require the e-cigarette retailers and wholesalers to pull a tobacco permit and license and would prohibit online sales of e-cigarettes.  So that was in one bill and last year it made it all the way through conference and died in conference.

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.