A University of Hawaii Cancer Center researcher was awarded a $2.8 million grant to develop and test an e-cigarette prevention plan for the state’s rural youth, especially Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders who are disproportionately affected, according to a press release.

This comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 18% of middle schoolers in the state use vaping products, the most among 14 states that collected the relevant data. That figure rose to 30% for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander youth in the islands, the university said Wednesday.

Scott Okamoto, the recipient of the grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, will develop school-based, culturally grounded programs aimed at preventing the use of e-cigarettes, building on an existing drug prevention curriculum called Ho‘ouna Pono.

The so-called e-cigarette intervention will include social and print media campaigns at middle schools and charter schools on the Big Island. Over five years, more than 500 students are expected to enroll in the study, the press release said.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to develop and test an e-cigarette prevention intervention tailored to rural Hawaiian youth,” Okamoto was quoted as saying. “Our proposed intervention will educate youth on the risks of e-cigarette use, while also reflecting the cultural and relational values of rural Hawaiian youth and communities.”

The effects of e-cigarettes among young adults have been linked to heath issues such as asthma and bronchitis as well as increasing the risk of lung cancer.

“Research has also found that Covid-19 diagnosis was five times more likely among ever-users of e-cigarettes,” according to the news release.

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