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Vaping rises to alarming rates among Hawaii youth

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that 48.3% of Hawaii’s high school students and 30.6% of middle school students have tried e-cigarettes. The report was released as part of its Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System (YRBSS) which monitors six categories of health-related behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth.

The release of the 2020 YRBSS data punctuates the need for action in light of continuing reports of severe lung illnesses and deaths linked to vaping. The need is further compounded by the current COVID-19 crisis, making those with compromised lungs more vulnerable to the worst effects of this lung epidemic. The report also shows that 30.6% of high schoolers and 17.7% of middle schoolers are currently e-cigarette users. “The elevated vaping numbers in Hawaii are disheartening, especially knowing that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have higher vaping rates than the rest of the youth in Hawaii. Ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including mint and menthol as well as products like flavored e-cigarettes, cigars and cigarettes is a critical step that must be taken immediately to curb the youth e-cigarette epidemic,” said Pedro Haro, Executive Director of the American Lung Association in Hawaii.

“In light of the popularity of mint and menthol e-cigarettes among youth, the American Lung Association calls on the Hawaii legislature to protect our young people by including mint and menthol in a comprehensive prohibition of flavored all tobacco products,” Haro said. The CDC data shows that more than half of all Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander high school students have ever tried e-cigarettes while 45% of middle school Pacific Islanders have said the same.

The need for Hawaii to take action to protect youth from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, is more urgent than ever, with the youth vaping epidemic continuing its alarming rise to nearly one in three high school students reporting they are current e-cigarette users, compared to one in four according to
the CDC data released in 2018. This is a staggering increase in high school e-cigarette use in just the past two years. For Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, 39.5% of high school students report being current e-cigarette users, nearly 9% higher than the average for the state.

In January of this year, the American Lung Association “State of Tobacco Control” report called for proven tobacco control policies in light of the fact that the country’s youth vaping epidemic worsened in 2019. The report noted that despite Hawaii receiving more than $154 million from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state funding for tobacco control was just over $6.3 million, just 57.5% of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report recommended that the funds be used to support the health of our communities and to prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit.

Earlier this month, the Lung Association announced the launch of their highly anticipated revised N-O-T® Not On Tobacco youth tobacco cessation and INDEPTH® alternative to suspension programs and facilitator training courses. N-O-T is an evidence-based program with an impressive success rate, with
approximately 90% of teens who participate in the program cutting back or quitting tobacco altogether. The updated 2020 N-O-T revision goes beyond cigarette smoking to include all tobacco products, with an increased focus on nicotine dependence, e-cigarettes, and tobacco product use.

Haro added “our state needs to invest in helping youth quit tobacco, including e-cigarettes – as well as enact flavored tobacco restrictions. The Lung Association’s N-O-T program evaluation shows that along with quitting smoking or vaping, youth also have been shown to have better grades, higher motivation,
fewer absences, better relationships with teachers, and fewer school tobacco use policy violations.”

Both the N-O-T and INDEPTH programs support comprehensive tobacco control policies in school or community settings and support the American Lung Association’s measures to eliminate tobacco use by youth and to reduce the youth e-cigarette prevalence rate to 15% by 2025.