Teen Vaping Epidemic In Hawai'i

Jan 17, 2019

E-cigarette display by Department of Health
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The use of e-cigarettes among high school teens in Hawai’i is two times higher than the national average, according to the latest surveys.  And, the state legislature will be asked again to tighten Hawai’i laws this session.

Brian King, deputy director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention briefed attendees at a Hawai'i Public Health Institute Conference in Honolulu.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Teen Vaping is an epidemic among youth in Hawai’i.   Forty-two percent of high school teens have tried e-cigarettes and 26 percent routinely use them, according to the 2017 Hawai’i Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  That number is expected to skyrocket because of Juul – spelled J-U-U-L.  Brian King is deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Currently, Juul holds 70 percent of the U.S. market share. So it’s certainly is dominating at present.  And the reason that it is, is primarily regards to the shape, it’s discreet, it’s shaped like a USB flash drive and is particularly appealing to kids but it’s also available in flavors and it contains nicotine all the time and particularly high rates of nicotine at that.”

Professor Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, Division of Adolescent Medicine, Stanford University
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Professor, Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, who is in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Stanford University, says the nicotine content in Juul is extremely high.

“A pack of cigarettes is 20 cigarettes, right:  Juul is one and-a-half to two packs of cigarettes worth of nicotine in one pod.  And we don’t have very good data yet on how quickly a pod is being used by youth but anecdotally when I’ve talked to youth I’ve heard stories of them using one to four pods a day.”

Forrest Batz, a pharmacist and public health proponent on Hawai’i Island, says it takes seven Juul pods to fill a teaspoon.  He also says many youth are not aware about the health impacts of e-cigarettes.

Forrest Batz, PharmD, from Hawai'i Island
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

“Nicotine is among the most highly addictive substances that we know of. And, we know that kids in our community are being exposed to nicotine and that their brains are still developing. It alters development, it slows both their ability to think and their behavior.”

Since 2016, Hawai’i state law has prohibited the sale or the handing over of any tobacco product – including e-cigarettes – to anyone under 21 years of age.  But, underage youth can still purchase e-cigarette products on the internet.  Jessica Yamauchi, executive director of the Hawai’i Public Health Institute, wants to ban the shipment of online e-cigarette products to Hawai’i.

Jessica Yamauchi, executive director, Hawai'i Public Health Institute
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

“A lot of the internet sites only require you to be 18 and a lot of them, even with age verification, it’s not a fool proof age verification check, so it’s pretty easy to get your hands on them even if you’re 18 and our law’s 21.  So, we do feel it’s kind of a big loophole in our Tobacco 21 Law.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.