#808NoVape! UH Hilo students join forces with local health institute to raise awareness about dangers of vaping

Despite warnings about serious health risks, Hawai‘i high school students vape at twice the national rate—experts say this may be due to the large amount of radio advertising by the tobacco industry. A group of health students from UH Hilo are taking on the information battle by creating radio spots, a video, and informational materials for parents.

By Leah Sherwood.

Group of students in radio recording room.
UH Hilo students in the KWXX studio/recording room in Hilo to prepare their radio spots, Dec. 2, 2019. Clockwise from bottom left: Pakalani Aiwohi, Wanda Lewis (who voices the mother in one of the spots); Bree Olson, DC (DJ at the station), Aspen Klein, Onipa‘a Olds, and Raesha Picar-Cabal. Photo credit: Sally Ancheta, click to enlarge.

The work of students who took a health promotion class last semester at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is contributing to a public health campaign meant to raise awareness on the dangers of vaping, just as reports of serious lung injuries and deaths associated with vaping are making national headlines.

Students taking the course Health Promotion (KES 202) last fall created radio spots, a video, flyers, and infographics as part of an anti-vaping campaign sponsored by the Hawai‘i Public Health Institute. Two versions were made of a public service announcement that aired on Hawai‘i Island radio stations KWXX FM, KAOY FM, KNWB FM, KMWB FM, and KPUA AM in December.

Listen to version #1 of the radio spot:

Other media created for the campaign—a PSA video; flyers; and infographics designed for parents, teachers, coaches and would-be users—will soon be distributed by Hawai‘i Public Health Institute. The institute is a nonprofit organization in Hawai‘i with a broad public health mission that includes oral health, food and agriculture, transportation and public safety, and environmental health.

View the video:

Building awareness, educating the community

Misty Pacheco
Misty Pacheco

Misty Pacheco, associate professor and chair of the UH Hilo Department of Kinesiology and Exercise Sciences, who teaches the course, encouraged her students to experiment with different audience-specific health behavior models and theories when designing their materials. “The purpose of the health behavior models and theories is to predict, explain, and understand people’s behaviors and beliefs,” she says.

Students worked in groups organized by target demographic and proposed media product. They followed different models to evoke responses from each target demographic. “You are building awareness trying to prevent youth from vaping and educating the community about the dangers,” says Pacheco.

Julie Mowrer, acting director of the Center for Community Engagement at UH Hilo, and Sally Ancheta, the Hawai‘i Island community coordinator for the health institute, contributed to developing a syllabus and instruction suitable for preparing the students to be part of a health promotion campaign.

Ancheta, who gave the students a “Vape 101” course, notes that Hawai‘i high school students vape at twice the national rate. She says that this may be due to the large amount of radio advertising by the tobacco industry.

“We have the highest rate of advertising in the state on Hawai‘i Island, so vaping has really been normalized,” says Ancheta. “This whole campaign is about de-normalizing vaping to youth.”

Forrest Batz, affiliate faculty with the UH Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy, also served as an advisor to the students, providing guidance and education about vaping. Batz worked with UH Hilo students Pakalani Aiwohi, Onipa’a Olds, Raesha Picar-Cabal, Aspen Klein, and Bree Olson to give their radio PSAs a local spin. In the announcement, a child asks her mother for vaping products and the mother admonishes and educates the daughter about the dangers. The students also participated in the recording of the radio spots.

Listen to version #2 of the radio spot:

“Not many people get to do something like this where we are actually making a difference in the community,” says Olson, a junior majoring in kinesiology at UH Hilo. “I felt it was valuable and worth my time doing this—it wasn’t just a class assignment. We were actually going out into the community.”


Story by Leah Sherwood, a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at UH Hilo. She received her bachelor of science in biology and bachelor of arts in English from Boise State University. 

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