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As a health educator on Maui and a parent of teens, I am very upset about our youth vaping rates. If you are a parent or simply a person who cares about youth, you should be upset too.

Each year more of our youth here on Maui, Molokai and Lanai (and in Hawaii as a whole) are getting addicted to nicotine by using e-cigarettes (also known as vapes, Juul, Puff Bar, etc.), as the Big Tobacco industry continues to target youth.

In 2019, 48 percent of high school students and 31 percent of middle school students statewide reported having tried vapes. These rates are even higher in Maui County where 58 percent of high school students reported trying these products. As these 2019 rates are higher than 2017 rates, it is safe to expect that current 2021 usage is even higher. Recently, I’ve heard from local middle school and high school staff that the “vaping problem” is worse now than prior to the pandemic.

Vapes have continued to grow in popularity among youth nationwide, and Hawaii’s youth are not immune. These products have been marketed as healthy alternatives to cigarettes. In reality, there is nothing healthy about them. Vapes contain addictive nicotine and more than 60 other chemicals that are especially harmful to the young body and brain. Further, youth are starting off their nicotine addiction with vapes rather than using them to quit other tobacco products.

Again, these products contain nicotine salts, which are extremely addictive. Nicotine is especially harmful to youth as nicotine effects their whole body, their brain (which is still developing), their ability to learn, mood swings and social-emotional health.

The tobacco industry is spending a lot of money to recruit youth. Almost 90 percent of adult smokers reported starting use of tobacco products before the age of 18. That’s why Hawaii raised the age to purchase tobacco products, including vapes, to 21. However, that hasn’t stopped the tobacco industry from targeting our youth and recruiting replacement customers — our youth. Why else would this industry create vapes that look like USBs, markers, pens and highlighters so they can be easily hidden in plain sight? Why else would this industry create more than 15,000 sweet flavors (including mint and menthol) so their products taste good? To addict our kids!

The tobacco industry also wants us to believe that vape clouds are harmless water vapor. In reality, these “clouds” are inhalable aerosol which contain many harmful chemicals. Secondhand vape can have similar negative health effects to nonusers as secondhand and thirdhand smoke.

As a parent or guardian, what can you do? First, educate yourself about the dangers of tobacco products and vapes. Next, have an open conversation with your youth about the dangers of vapes and tobacco products. If you or your youth are already using these products, get help to quit. Support each other! Finally, please join our state legislative efforts to regulate the products and end the youth vaping epidemic.

There are many resources available to you and your youth:

1. The Stanford Tobacco Toolkit: med.stanford.edu/tobaccopreventiontoolkit.

2. 808 No Vape: 808novape.org.

3. Hawaii State Department of Health “Start Living Healthy”: www.healthyhawaii.com/tobacco-free.

4. Sign up for state legislative notices and learn how to get involved: www.flavorshook kidshi.org.

5. Text to Quit Program for Youth — “My Life My Quit”: Text “Start my Quit” to 36072 or visit hawaii.mylifemyquit.org.

As a community, we’ve taken enough from Big Tobacco! It’s time to take action, make our youth’s health our priority and take a stand against the tobacco companies who are cunningly targeting our youth! Our youth deserve to be kids without addiction.

Get more information on how you can help your kids avoid or quit addiction. Call or email Public Health Education at (808) 984-8216 or kristin.mills@doh.hawaii.gov.

* Kristin Mills is a public health educator with the state Department of Health’s Maui District Health Office.


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