Hawaii Department of Health’s New Campaign Shares Mental Health Effects of Teen Smoking Cigarettes: Maui Now

Nicotine Brain Explained. PC: Hawai’i Department of Health / Escape the Vape Hawaiʻi

“Decades of deceptive marketing have created the false impression of tobacco as a stress reliever — and youth are especially susceptible to celebrity and peer influence,” according to the state Department of Health. Now the department is launching a campaign that shares the effects of teenage vaping on mental health in Hawaii.

The e-cigarette industry more than tripled its advertising and promotion spending from 2015 to 2018, which included a 15-fold increase in payments to celebrity endorsers, social media
influencers, brand ambassadors and other guarantors, according to the DOH.

During the same time period, nicotine concentration has increased by 60% and more for cartridge-type products popular with youth in Hawaii. To combat misinformation about tobacco use and amid public health and mental health concerns, the Hawaii State Department of Health recently launched a new campaign, “Nicotine Explains the Brain,” to correct public misperceptions.


The campaign aims to reach and educate Hawaii’s youth, particularly those aged 13-18, about the negative effects of nicotine on mental health through a multi-channel approach, providing prevention messages to counter the pro-cigarette imagery across channels , which include pro-vape content and inspire Hawaii’s youth to live vape-free.

“Studies show that adolescent nicotine use negatively affects brain development. If teens are already experiencing depression or other mental health problems, vaping can make those conditions worse,” said Lola Irwin, health administrator for the Department of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “We know that many teenagers in Hawaii may not realize how much nicotine they may be ingesting and how vaping is harming their health and overall well-being. The use of vape products can compound existing mental health problems, and a vicious cycle of nicotine withdrawal symptoms includes anxiety, depression, concentration problems, and sleep and mood disorders. We hope to build on the success of our previous smoking prevention campaign while focusing on educating teenagers and their youth about the serious mental health risks of smoking.”

“Nicotine Brain Explained” shares how vaping affects the brain in ways that can affect mental health by:

  • Worsening feelings of stress over time: Nicotine triggers receptors in the brain that lead to the production of cortisol, which helps regulate the body’s response to stress.
  • It negatively affects how you feel: Nicotine disrupts the natural balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, which affect how you feel, making you feel unhappy and dislike yourself.
  • Increased risk of long-term mood disorders: Nicotine changes brain circuits in a way that is associated with an increased risk of long-term mood disorders.

To ensure that “The Nicotine Brain Explained” would motivate Hawaii’s youth not to vape, the ad was tested with teenage focus group participants. Additionally, several Hawaii teenagers provided feedback on the campaign as it was being developed. In a study, a teenage girl who used vapes shared, “I know some kids use vapes to try to take their mind off things or maybe to calm down. So, I think those are some of the reasons kids vape. But I don’t think they realize that it can actually harm them mentally.

A teenager who is at risk from vaping added: “People vape to calm their mind or stress. This [ad] it can help people realize that what they think is right isn’t.”

For Hawai’i teens who would like to quit smoking or cigarettes, the Hawai’i Tobacco Quitline continues to offer “My Life, My Quit,” a free program with trained coaches to help youth 17 and under quit smoking or cigarettes. Teens can sign up by texting “Start My Quit” to 36072. Teens, parents, guardians and health care providers can also visit MyLifeMyQuit.com for more information.


In addition, the Hawai’i Tobacco Quitline offers anyone 18 or older free help and resources to quit smoking, including free nicotine replacement patches, gum and lozenges.

For more information on Escape The Vape Hawai’i, please visit www.EscapeTheVapeHI.com.

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