One to Watch: Luke Itomura ’27

Up in Smoke: Working to Make Youth Tobacco Consumption A Thing of the Past

From curious eighth grader to proactive public health advocate, Luke Itomura ’27 has made significant strides in protecting Hawai‘i’s youth from tobacco products. Along the way he has collaborated with state legislatures and gained media attention. Most recently, the intrepid teen landed an internship at Stanford Medicine’s Halpern-Felsher REACH Lab, which strives to promote health in adolescent and young adults through research, education and policy. There he’ll be helping update Stanford’s Tobacco and Cannabis Toolkit through research and advocacy, both in-person and virtually, with the intention to stay involved for multiple years.

“It’s crucial for youth to take advantage of available opportunities or create their own path,” he says. “Adults are eager to listen to what young people have to say. When you spot an issue, take action and seek support.”

Itomura’s interest in tobacco research began in the eighth grade. As a participant in Science Olympiad, a national competition where students participate in events related to various science fields, such as biology, he discovered the severe health effects of smoking. Concurrently, in social studies, Itomura learned about the legislative process. So, when a representative from Coalition for Tobacco-Free Hawaii (CTFH) gave a presentation during an assembly, his burgeoning interest soon transformed into a committed passion.

Itomura joined the CTFH’s youth leadership team in March 2023. They regularly meet with legislators, provide written and oral testimonies on tobacco’s harm to minors, and raise awareness through articles in Civil Beat and letters in the Star-Advertiser. Focused on ending the youth vaping epidemic, the team advocates for Bill 46, which proposes banning flavored tobacco in Hawai‘i. 

His desire to protect the health of Hawai‘i’s youth has expanded into other areas of interest, including the prevention of melanoma caused by UV rays. Itomura is juggling a second public health initiative through Punahou’s Luke Center for Public Service – in collaboration with classmates Irene Son ’27 and Joshua Konno-Lum ’27 and mentor Dani Goddard, director of the Luke Center. Inspired by a Food Bank drive at Punahou, with the idea that those struggling to afford food might also lack resources to buy sun protection, Itomura had an “a ha” moment, when he learned that the food bank specifically supplies monthly “keiki bags” to children. “The team found an innovative distribution channel for putting sunscreen into the hands of kids,” Goddard says. “I am proud of the work they are pouring into this.”

To turn this idea into reality, the team approached 30 sunscreen brands, including Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic, for donations of products. And through Tribenni, a service-based fundraising platform, they aim to raise $5,000 for a whole summer’s worth of sunscreen supply, which will be distributed monthly. They’re also creating educational flyers on sunscreen use, featuring the slogan, “Don’t fry, apply!” With 100 hours of collective service being completed and the idea for an on-campus sunscreen drive, their campaign will culminate in sunscreen hitting the keiki bags this summer. 

Outside of advocacy, Itomura enjoys cooking, using skills honed through culinary classes at Punahou. His parents, both dentists, have instilled in him the value of hard work and perseverance, which shows through his accomplishments. Luke advises young people to seize opportunities and make their voices heard. 

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