Hawaii ‘at the Forefront’ With New Tobacco Control Law

Photo (cc) by James Alby

On Jan. 1, the Aloha State became the first state in the nation to raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, to 21.

“We are proud to once again be at the forefront of the nation in tobacco prevention and control,” Hawaii Department of Health Director Virginia Pressler said in a statement. “While our comprehensive approach to addressing tobacco use in Hawaii has led to quantifiable decreases in deaths due to smoking, an increase in targeted marketing to our youth and young adults and new technology in the form of e-cigarettes requires our state to take additional measures to protect our young people.”

The percentage of Hawaii’s teens using e-cigarettes quadrupled to 22 percent from 2011 to 2015, the Associated Press reports. Among middle-schoolers, the percentage increased sixfold to 12 percent in the same four-year period. Hawaii isn’t unique. Teens across the country are increasingly turning to e-cigarettes.

Hawaii already has begun enforcing the new law, but initially only warnings will be issued through March. After that, underage smokers will be fined $10 for the first offense and $50 or community service for subsequent offenses, the AP explained. If a retailer is caught selling tobacco to someone under 21, they can be fined $500 for the first offense and up to $2,000 for each subsequent offense.

In addition to increasing the legal smoking age, Hawaii also revised its smoke-free area laws to incorporate e-cigarettes, so their use is now banned anywhere traditional tobacco products are prohibited, according to a Hawaii Department of Health press release.

Although Hawaii is the first state to raise the legal age for smoking to 21, more than 100 cities and counties in the United States — including New York City — have already done so. Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah have increased the legal smoking age from 18 to 19.

“(R)aising [the] minimum age to buy cigarettes to at least 21 will reduce smoking prevalence and save lives,” says the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. (Check out “Should the U.S. Raise the Smoking Age to 21?“)

The IOM noted that a staggering 90 percent of America’s daily smokers started lighting up before age 19.

The institute went on to say that if the smoking age were raised to 21 nationwide, “for the cohort of people born between 2000 and 2019, there would be approximately 249,000 fewer premature deaths, 45,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer, and 4.2 million fewer years of life lost.”

By raising the smoking age, the Aloha State hopes to keep tobacco products out of the hands of youths and prevent future nicotine addiction and health issues, Lola Irvin, an official with the Hawaii Department of Health, told the AP.

“In Hawaii, about 1 in 4 students in high school try their first cigarette each year, and 1 in 3 who get hooked will die prematurely,” Irvin said.

Although several military bases in Hawaii said they support and will comply with the new smoking law, some soldiers are adamantly opposed to it.

“If you can serve the country, you should be able to have a drink and a cigarette,” Justin Warren, 22, an X-ray technician in the Army, told the AP.

What do you think about Hawaii raising the smoking age to 21? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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