HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The new director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health headlined this event. He says Hawaii is doing a great job with reducing tobacco usage, but he also tells us more work needs to be done.
Leimomi Shearer started smoking in the sixth grade. She continued lighting it up for more than 40 years. But just four years ago, she kicked the bad habit.
"I didn't want tobacco controlling me, I needed to have control of my life again," Shearer said.
The Hilo native is now helping strangers with their tobacco addictions as a counselor.
Shearer's story is a shining example of how much the state has gained in reducing usage.
"Hawaii is a very, very important state in that it's been doing more than most states around the key things we think will help make a difference in terms of helping to get people off smoking," CDC Office on Smoking and Health Director Tim McAfee said.
Mcafee says reasons for this include strong comprehensive smoke-free air ordinances and a state tobacco tax that ranks fourth highest in the nation.
Hawaii is also one of more than 40 states to get several million dollars yearly through the "Tobacco Settlement Master Agreement."
And yet, more help from the feds is coming.
Sometime late next year these explicit warning labels may start showing up on cigarette boxes.
"That would be a huge step forward and what will help people in Hawaii to really see the other side of the story that doesn't get told as forcefully," McAfee said.
Next year, the state will begin implementing a five-year strategic plan for tobacco use prevention.
It includes feedback from town hall meetings and a youth summit.
The approach is to tackle the issue at many different angles including through legislation restricting advertising practices that are targeted at kids.
"If the tobacco industry is targeting youths 13-24, why can't it be youths 13-24 fighting back against them?" Baldwin High School senior Monica Medrano said.
The health department says annual medical and lost productivity costs for smoking in Hawaii are estimated at more than $550 million.