Why Kids in Hawaiʻi Vape and What You Can Do About It

On "Kick Butts Day," youth advocates want to stop the sale of candy-flavored tobacco in Hawaiʻi.

Photo: Courtesy of Hawaii Public Health Institute

(Editor’s Note: This story originally was published March, 13, 2019, as a preview to Kick Butts Day.)

“Vaping,” or the use of e-cigarettes, is a growing epidemic among youth in Hawaiʻi.

More than 42 percent of high school students and more than 27 percent of middle schoolers across the state have tried using e-cigarettes, according to a 2017 Hawaiʻi Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Teenagers in Hawaiʻi vape twice as much as their peers nationally.

But they are not the only ones. Local teachers also are seeing vapers as young as 11, or sixth grade.

For those who are unfamiliar with vaping and e-cigarettes, here are the basics. (No judgement. I  did not know much about vaping until I recently attended a workshop for parents.)

Technically, e-cigarettes are called “Electronic Smoking Devices” (ESDs). They work by heating up a liquid solution to produce an aerosol that users inhale. People often mistake the aerosol for water vapor. ESDs come in all shapes and sizes. Some look like pens, highlighters and flash drives for your computers. 

Is that a USB drive or an Electronic Smoking Device? E-cigs come in all shapes and sizes.

The liquid contains the highly addictive chemical nicotine. That, plus cadmium, arsenic, benzene and other harmful substances. Because their bodies and brains still are developing, teens and preteens who vape are vulnerable to asthma, bronchitis and cardiovascular diseases.

People who don’t vape—but who inhale secondhand smoke—also are at risk for developing major health issues. The chemicals stick to furniture, clothes, hair, children’s car seats and walls inside the home.

What entices kids to try e-cigarettes for the first time are “flavored” liquids marketed to them.

The flavored liquids come in bright-colored packaging and have names that sound like popular candies. In a 2017 Hawaiʻi Youth Tobacco Survey, approximately 25 percent of local high school students said the “availability of flavors” is the reason they use e-cigarettes.

Today, more than 15,000 different flavors exist on the market. They taste like gummy bears, apple juice, cotton candy and other keiki favorites. In Hawaiʻi, some of the most highly sought-after flavors are li hing and mango. 

Photo: U.S. Food & Drug Administration

Photo: U.S. Food & Drug Administration

Which one is the candy? Which one is the flavored tobacco product?

To crack down on e-cigarette use among youth in Hawaiʻi, a group of young advocates will participate in “Kick Butts Day,” scheduled for Wednesday, March 20. The kids are members of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaiʻi’s Youth Council, a program of the Hawaiʻi Public Health Institute

Their goal is to end the sale of candy-flavored tobacco in Hawaiʻi. 

2019 Kick Butts Day on Wednesday, March 20.
  • Advocacy Training: 9 a.m., Multipurpose Room 3, Hawaiʻi Pacific University. Aloha Tower, 1 Aloha Tower Drive.
  • Capitol Rally and Legislative Visits: Noon, Hawaiʻi State Capitol, 415 S. Beretania St. (drop-off and pick-up will be at Aloha Tower.)

Photo: Courtesy of Hawaii Public Health Institute

The majority of participants will be preteens and teens. There is no minimum age requirement to join. 

“As long as the children are mature and can handle a daylong activity, they are welcome,” says Scott Stensrud, statewide youth coordinator for the Hawaiʻi Public Health Institute. He says half of the participants are from the Youth Council, but Kick Butts Day is open to everyone. 

To participate in Kick Butts Day, click here.

Stensrud and his Youth Council members are closely tracking Senate Bill 1009 to end the sale of flavored tobacco in Hawaiʻi. “It passed out of the House Health Committee on March 12 and has two more committees to pass, but we really need parents to let their representatives know they support the bill,” he says. “We ask for parents’ support, as well.”

For more information about the bill, e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco, visit this link