No fun before 21: smoking age may be raised in Hawaii

Hawaii state Senate bill SB1030 HD2 has been passed by both chambers and sent on to Governor David Ige (D) for consideration. The bill includes electronic cigarette devices in its definition of tobacco products. If signed into law, the age for purchasing, selling, possessing, or consuming tobacco would be raised to 21 from the current age of 18. Although many local governments have similar bans, Hawaii would be the first to enact statewide legislation on the matter.

Motivation

The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii threw its support behind the legislation, with its executive director calling it “groundbreaking.” The Department of Health estimates that 5600 children try smoking each year. The overwhelming majority of daily smokers start before age 19. Senator Rosalyn Baker (D) introduced the bill, which would impose a $10 fine for first violations and $50 fines or mandatory community services for subsequent offenses, as an attempt to “change the paradigm.” The Institute of Medicine reported that raising the smoking age to 21 may result in an estimated 12 percent decrease in smoking prevalence.

Marketing to teens

Health concerns about tobacco products have grown due to the increasing popularity of electronic cigarettes (e-cigs), the use of which is known as “vaping” due to the inhalation of vapor from heated liquid. This liquid is often flavored, with many sweet flavors such as bubble gum or candy directed toward younger customers. Although marketing to children and teens is not technically allowed, packaging and advertising is still being created to attract children. According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), e-cigarette use tripled from 2013 to 2014 among middle and high school students. The National Youth Tobacco Survey asked high school students if they had used e-cigarettes at least one day out of the last 30 days, and found that reported use rose from 660,000 to 2 million. The use of traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes and cigars, declined somewhat between 2011 and 2014, but e-cigarette use offset these declines.

Opposition

Some argue that the bill violates common sense. Children become legal adults at 18, and are able to serve in the military, sign contracts, and get married. Senator Gil Riviere (D), voted against the bill, saying that the state should ban smoking for everyone if it is concerned about elimination. Governor Ige is being cautious about signing the bill, stating that various teams are researching the legalities of raising the smoking age and that he will make a decision based upon available information.

Other legislation

Governor Ige did recently sign House Bill 940, which puts e-cigarettes under the same restrictions as traditional cigarettes in public places. Three other states (North Dakota, New Jersey, and Utah) already have such legislation in place. E-cigarettes are still new enough that little regulation of them exists, although states are beginning to catch up.

In California, proposed legislation include an increase of cigarette taxes by $2 per pack, as well as a similar smoking age increase. Activists state that although California once led the push against tobacco, a strong lobby presence has turned the tide. California has failed to raise the tobacco tax on its last 17 attempts. Numbers indicate that between 2007 and 2014, the industry spent $64 million on lobbying activities. Yet the state is beginning to respond, having just launched a $7 million advertising campaign decrying e-cigarette usage.

In Washington state, Attorney General Bob Ferguson has been hoping to see the smoking age raised to 21 there as well. However, the House Finance Committee gutted House Bill 1458, which originally passed the House Health Care and Wellness Committee with no problems and strong support. The April 3 committee meeting changed the age to 19 and and delayed the effective date by four years. The bill was sponsored by Senator Mark Miloscia (R) and Representative Tina Orwall (D).