By Tommy Noyes

Youth vaping and associated lung illnesses are at epidemic levels according to the Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division of the Hawai‘i State Department of Health. Photo by Hawai‘i State Department of Health

Concern over the vaping epidemic is in the news daily for valid reasons. Parents on Kaua‘i: please be aware that Electronic Smoking Devices (ESDs), also known as e-cigs or vaping, are rapidly growing in popularity among school kids nationwide.

The U.S. Surgeon General reports e-cigarette use among youth is a public health concern, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration states teenage vaping is now at an “epidemic proportion.” Hawai‘i youth usage rates exceed this dangerous trend — they are using e-cigarettes or vapes at an accelerating rate. The compelling health concern is that vaping is now creating a new generation of youth addicted to nicotine.

Vaping is so popular with kids because the candy-like flavors are tremendously appealing. The sweet flavors in these nicotine-laced devices get the kids started, and the nicotine hooks them. Nicotine is known to be highly addictive and can harm brain development.

Health advocates introduced bills in the 2019 Hawai‘i legislative session to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in the state. While those bills did not make it into law, subsequent fatalities attributed to vaping and the ever-increasing body of condemning evidence that the tobacco industry is blatantly marketing to children have increased the urgency for Hawai‘i’s 2020 Legislature to pass bills regulating vaping and flavored tobacco products. You can help protect Hawai‘i’s children from a life of nicotine dependency by joining that advocacy effort in the coming months. Learn more by contacting the author at (808) 639-1018.

According to the most recent (2017) Youth Risk Behaviors Survey, 45 percent of high school students on Kaua‘i had tried vaping, and 25 percent were currently vaping. Middle school rates are similarly troubling. Hawai‘i’s vaping rates are twice as high as youth nationally.

The text of this article is primarily excerpted from the Hawai‘i Department of Health advisory issued in November 2019. The DOH confirmed four Hawai‘i cases of severe respiratory illness associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping. These cases appear to be linked to a national outbreak of E-cigarette, or Vaping, product-use Associated Lung Injury, (EVALI).

As of December 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, “THC-containing products continue to be the most commonly reported e-cigarettes, or vaping, products used by EVALI patients, and it appears that vitamin E acetate is associated with EVALI. However, many substances and product sources are being investigated, and there might be more than one cause. Therefore, while the investigation continues, persons should consider refraining from the use of all e-cigarette, or vaping, products.”

The CDC also tracked 2,291 EVALI cases (including 48 deaths) among the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands).

The DOH’s Disease Outbreak Control Division is investigating all reports of potential vaping injuries. If you are concerned about your health after using an e-cigarette product, contact your health care provider.

Regardless of the outcome of the outbreak investigation, e-cigarette products should never be used by children, young adults, pregnant women or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.

Current recommendations on e-cigarettes and vaping are at http://www.HealthyHawaii.com/Tobacco-Free/Vaping or at the DOH’s web site at www.health.hawaii.gov.

  • Tommy Noyes is Kaua‘i Path’s executive director, a League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructor and active with the Kaua‘i Medical Reserve Corps.