HSTA wins award for tobacco control efforts

If feds don't act, the state should ban flavored vape products

The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii honored the Hawaii State Teachers Association with the Kanalu Award at its 2019 Menthol and Flavored Tobacco Summit Wednesday to thank our union for contributions to tobacco prevention and control.

The Kanalu Award is presented to an individual or organization who is new to tobacco control and has made an outstanding contribution to furthering tobacco control efforts.

HSTA has advocated, along with many other education and health groups, to support state legislation that would ban flavored e-liquids and regulate the vaping industry in the same way the tobacco industry is regulated to protect our students.

Are you aware that a child can purchase e-liquids and vaping products online? All they have to do is click, “Yes, I am over 21,” then voila, they can purchase their products. Did you know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned chocolate and other candy-like flavors in regular cigarettes since 2009? The FDA banned flavored cigarettes because the tobacco industry was using predatory marketing practices on our youth. Did you know you can’t buy regular cigarettes on the internet? That's because the federal government banned that practice. The HSTA believes vaping e-liquids should be regulated in the same way.

Mitzie Higa, HSTA's government relations specialist, said, "When a student is addicted to nicotine and they can't concentrate in class, this affects their learning. If they are only thinking about when they are going to be able to sneak and smoke, it affects their learning and it affects their future."  

Juul, the world's largest vape manufacturer, announced Thursday it is immediately suspending sales of its fruity e-cigarette flavors while the FDA completes a safety review of its products.

"We should, as a state, ban shipment of e-liquids to people in Hawaii," Higa said. "We cannot wait for the FDA to do it. Our state needs to act now. We need to protect our students from this predatory practice by the vaping industry that is targeting new vaping customers, our students."

Lastly, it is important to know that NONE of the flavors used in e-liquids have been approved as safe for inhalation. They are only approved as flavor additives for foods to be ingested (eaten, not inhaled). The vaping industry, including all flavors, remains completely unregulated right now, and the HSTA believes the vaping industry needs to be regulated.

There is a youth vaping epidemic nationwide, and in Hawaii, about 26 percent of youth say they vape, which is double the national average. Hawaii educators are already constantly confiscating these devices and products daily as the Hawaii State Department of Education included them as contraband since 2015. 

But the use of these products by our students is only going up. We need state laws to be created to regulate the vaping industry and protect our students.

During the last legislative session, the House Finance Committee deferred a bill that would have established a flavor ban on e-liquids in the state, essentially killing the proposal supported by HSTA and health advocacy groups.  A second bill that would have regulated the vaping industry was amended to punish our students and anyone under 21 caught vaping with higher fines (increasing them to $100 from $10). HSTA believes the vaping industry should be held responsible for their predatory marketing practices directed at our children. 

HSTA will continue to oppose any bill that would focus on punishing our students and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. We applaud Gov. David Ige for vetoing this bill when the flawed language was placed in the final bill last session. Next session, we intend to get the right bills passed with the correct language that not only ban flavored e-liquids but regulate the vaping industry in the same way that the tobacco industry is regulated. We need to protect our students, and get them help to stop vaping. This is what teachers do. We protect our students and hold those who prey on our students accountable for their actions, in this case, the vaping industry.

The State Department of Health issued a health advisory earlier this month urging everyone to stop vaping immediately until more is known about why people across the country who use vaping devices are getting gravely sick and even dying.

As of Oct. 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 33 deaths among 1,479 lung injuries associated with the use of e-cigarettes, up from at least 1,299 cases and 26 deaths announced last week. Cases have been reported in every state but Alaska, as well as the District of Columbia and one U.S. territory.

Author: Keoki Kerr