‘I get to talk about poison’

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Panelists, from left Pharmacist Forrest Batz, state Department of Health Kauai District Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman, Trish La Chica of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii, Kapaa High School student Kailyn Paleracio, Dr. Diane Felton of the DOH, and Kevin Ramirez and Valerie Saiki of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii pause for pictures at the Kauai Youth Vaping Epidemic Thursday at Kauai Community College.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Students from Kanuikapono Public Charter School pick up information on vaping and drugs Thursday following the Kauai Youth Vaping Epidemic presentation at Kauai Community College.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Panelists including Kailyn Paleracio of Kapaa High School, Diana Felton of the state Department of Health, Dr. Janet Berreman, DOH Kauai district health officer, Trish La Chica of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii, Pharmacist Forrest Batz and Kevin Ramirez of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii field questions from the audience Thursday during the Kauai Youth Vaping Epidemic presentation at Kauai Community College.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Char Ono of the Kauai Community College nursing program and Ava Meek, a student at Kanuikapono Public Charter School, look over some of the vaping items and literature available at the Kauai Youth Vaping Epidemic presentation Thursday at Kauai Community College.

PUHI — Nearly 100 people gathered Thursday to learn about the rapid rise in popularity of e-cigarettes among Kauai teenagers, a trend affecting communities nationwide, recently described by the Food and Drug Administration as having reached “epidemic proportions.”

The “Kauai Youth Vaping Epidemic” conference began just hours after the FDA announced plans to step up its enforcement actions, with a “sustained campaign to monitor, penalize and prevent e-cigarette sales to minors in retail locations.”

“I’m really the lucky one cause I get to talk about poison,” said Department of Health State Toxicologist Dr. Diana Felton, addressing a mostly-full auditorium at Kauai Community College. “And make no mistake — nicotine is a poison!”

Kauai District Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman gave a lecture about the vaping epidemic “by the numbers,” describing the particular impact of the vaping epidemic on Hawaii’s teenage population.

High school students in the state are twice as likely to regularly use electronic smoking devices than the nation as a whole, and middle school students vape at rates over five times the national average, Berreman said.

In contrast to traditional cigarette use, which has declined over the past two decades among both teenagers and adults on the island, Berreman said data collected since 2011 shows “a very rapid and steady increase” in the use of e-cigarettes. Today, one in five middle school students and one-third of high school students regularly use some form of electronic smoking device.

Forrest Batz, a doctor of pharmacy and member of the Hawaii Public Health Institute’s board of directors, spoke about the health risks associated with e-cigarette use.

“Vaping is not like boiling water. It’s aerosol,” Batz said, comparing e-cigarette devices to some household items that come in pressurized spray cans. “How many of you would breath in hairspray?”

Batz explained that the highly-concentrated liquid in the devices contains, in addition to nicotine, a number of potentially harmful ingredients like propylene glycol and metals such as aluminum, chromium and lead, which are toxic when inhaled.

Batz cited studies that show a correlation between e-cigarette use and a slew of adverse health effects, including coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, impaired airway and lung immune activity and acid reflux.

He also pointed out the correlation between vaping and traditional tabacco use. Youth who use electronic smoking devices are three times more likely to smoke cigarettes, according to Batz.

“Vaping also doubles the risk of heart attacks,” he said, cautioning the audience that because the phenomenon is relatively new, the long-term impact on the health of e-cigarette users remain unknown. “We don’t want our youth to vape and find out,” he said.

As Batz was ending his presentation, a troop of about 20 teenagers filed in, students from Kanuikapono Charter School and Kapaa High School, filling most of the remaining seats.

Fran Becker, one of the organizers of the conference, said another 12 students planned to come, but had trouble getting transportation.

“Hopefully the ones that made it are the influencers in their school,” she said.

To view the speakers’ slide show presentations visit https://goo.gl/dqfMx3.

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Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cloehrer@thegardenisland.com.

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