Nearly half of Hawaii high school students and a third of middle school students have tried e-cigarettes, according to data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2019, 48.3% of high school students and 30.6% of middle school students surveyed in the state said they tried e-cigarettes at some point, says the 2020 report released Aug. 20 as part of the agency’s Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System.

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Nationally, 50.1% of high schoolers said they tried vaping, up from 42.2% in 2017. Data for Hawaii students reporting having tried e-cigarettes was not collected in 2017.

The American Lung Association in Hawaii says the data punctuates the need for action in light of continuing reports of severe lung illnesses and deaths linked to vaping. That need is further compounded by the current COVID-19 pandemic, making those with compromised lungs more vulnerable.

The report also shows 30.6% of high schoolers and 17.7% of middle schoolers in Hawaii are currently e-cigarette users. In 2017, 25.5% of high school students reported regular use of e-cigarettes.

Further, the data shows more than half of all Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander high school students have tried e-cigarettes while 45% of middle school Pacific Islanders said the same.

“The elevated vaping numbers in Hawaii are disheartening, especially knowing that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have higher vaping rates than the rest of the youth in Hawaii,” said Pedro Haro, executive director of the American Lung Association in Hawaii.

Haro called on legislators to act in the upcoming session “to protect our young people by including mint and menthol in a comprehensive prohibition of all flavored tobacco products.”

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In July, the state Senate Ways and Means Committee unanimously advanced a bill banning flavored tobacco products; however, the House disagreed with the Senate’s amendments, so the bill died.

The figures for e-cigarette use are far higher than tobacco use, with 17.8% of Hawaii high schoolers having said they tried smoking cigarettes, according to the data. Nationally, 24.1% of high school students admitted to having smoked tobacco.

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