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American Lung Association calls for more action against youth vaping and tobacco use

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Elaine Thompson/AP
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AP
FILE - This Dec. 11, 2019, file photo shows a cloud of vapor being released from an electronic cigarette by a man in Tukwila, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

The American Lung Association is calling for more action from Hawaiʻi lawmakers this year, specifically in addressing flavored tobacco products and youth vaping.

For the 20th year, the association released its annual State of Tobacco Control report for the country and states.

This year’s report highlighted the past successes of Hawaiʻi lawmakers to reduce and prevent tobacco use in the last two decades.

But Pedro Haro, executive director for the American Lung Association in Hawaiʻi, says those successes are in jeopardy.

"Hawaiʻi has had some mixed ratings. We’re definitely doing really wonderful in certain areas – such as smoke-free air, and doing pretty good about the funding of tobacco programs (about average on that)," Haro said. "But we’re really not doing well as far as restrictions on flavored cigarettes and e-cigarette products."

Haro says flavored tobacco products are behind the state’s relatively high youth vaping rate.

According to the last Youth Risk Behavior survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly a third of Hawaiʻi high school students said they are vaping – and half have said they tried e-cigarettes.

Both are increases compared to the 2017 survey.

"We definitely know that most people that start vaping or using tobacco, start before the age of 21 — and that a majority of them use flavored tobacco, e-cigarettes, and combustible tobacco," Haro said.

"Those flavors are the entry point, typically, for new tobacco users. And that’s really important to note, because attacking the idea of flavors is really attacking the industry, the tobacco industry at its heart, which is its main way of recruiting new smokers is by making them appealing to younger and younger audiences," he told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Haro says Hawaiʻi remains one of the top states when it comes to tobacco control efforts. But that’s because other states have done little to reduce or prevent tobacco use.

"With e-cigarettes being introduced into our community, it has the possibility of erasing all of that progress that we have made," he said. "And that’s incredibly dangerous to leave our future generations with such a burden that we know can cause things like lung disease, COPD, and many many other health negative outcomes."

While previous attempts to add restrictions to flavored tobacco products have failed at the state capitol in recent years — there are continued efforts.

Rep. Scot Matayoshi has introduced House Bill 1698, which would ban the sale of flavored vaping products. Matayoshi says it would make it harder for kids to purchase these products.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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