KAPAA — Kauai artists Trysen Kaneshige and Victoria Aiu were able to breathe a sigh of relief on Tuesday after unveiling a mural they worked on through driving rain and strong winds.
Working alongside Ken Nishimura, artist, mentor and creative director of Keep It Flowing, the duo took on a wall at Kapaa High School as part of a statewide 808NOVAPE campaign that’s been ongoing through February.
Over five days, they created a mural that captures Kauai both above and under the sea, featuring a sea turtle and kala, or blue spine unicorn fish, and glimpses of the island in the distance. In the corner the words “Breathe Aloha” are tagged in street-art style.
“We weathered through the storm,” Kaneshige said. “We parked the truck right here (on the grass at Kapaa High School) and then it would rain, so we’d wait and then have to dry off the wall again.”
The mural, set in the school’s courtyard, is one of five that have been created across the archipelago in a mural tour that’s sparking conversation around student use of e-cigarettes and vape pens.
In partnership with Hawaii Public Health Institute, the 808NOVAPE Campaign is a response to the nationally rising rates of student vaping and is meant to inspire and involve students in creative projects. It’s also meant to bring parents up to speed on the subject.
Nationwide, students are picking up the pen more often. According to a 2018 Food and Drug Administration study, 1.3 million more high school students are using e-cigarettes now than in 2017.
And Hawaii has the third-highest rate of high school students that vape, according to Hawaii Public Health Institute.
“Like a lot of places (around the nation) we have seen a rise in use,” said Kapaa High Principal Tommy Cox. “I think it’s popular because there’s so many flavors, like cotton candy.”
He pointed out the vape pens or devices used to vape e-cigarettes are made in a variety of shapes and sizes. Many look like eye-drop bottles or flash drives.
Making sure parents know what those devices look like and are informed on the smells and effects of vaping are important in their goal to keep students on track to a healthy lifestyle, school officials said.
But it’s not just generating awareness for parents.
Kapaa High student Haylee Garcia-Raquel was one of the students who helped paint the mural, and said it’s a message to students as well.
“I think it’s good exposure for students to learn what vaping can do,” Garcia-Raquel said.
Students were involved by painting a few phrases on some fish painted alongside the mural, phrases like “Smoking not a Hawaiian tradition” and “Earn it, don’t burn it.”
“I did the one that says ‘no joke,’” said student Taylor Chang.
“I think the mural was a cool thing to be a part of.”
After unveiling the mural and accepting a proclamation from Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami, Nishimura jetted off to Hilo to start another project. Aiu and Kaneshige stayed behind and Nishimura said he was sorry the duo couldn’t travel along.