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Legislature Takes on Tobacco; Five Bills Considered Today

Posted February 7, 2014, 06:13 PM HST
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The Legislature is considering raising the minimum age to buy tobacco, but is steering away from outlawing its possession by minors.

State lawmakers today took up a variety of bills dealing with tobacco, with at least five such measures scheduled for public committee hearings today.

Several dealt with taxes, while another involved regulation of e-cigarettes.

One, Senate Bill 2066, would increase the state excise tax on tobacco products, which is currently set at 70% of the wholesale price, to an as-yet undetermined rate. However, that bill was deferred indefinitely today.

A similar measure, Senate Bill 2496, would set the new tax at 85%, but that bill was put on hold until a joint committee meeting scheduled for Feb. 10.

Senate Bill 2572 would have added e-cigarettes to the list of tobacco products subject to excise tax, but that too was deferred.

The use of e-cigarettes was also the subject of House Bill 2321, which would ban their use wherever smoking is prohibited. That bill received its second committee approval today, and next moves to the Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce.

The state Department of Health already bans their use in all of its offices and facilities.

Senate Bill 2029 would follow the lead of Hawaii County, which last year raised the minimum age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Co-introduced by Big Island Sens. Josh Green and Russell Ruderman, the bill today went before two different committees and was approved by both.

Both committees also amended the bill, but the wording of the change or changes was not immediately available.

The Hawaii County law contains a “grandfather” clause for those who were already 18 years old when it went into effect. The original version of SB2029 does not contain such a provision.

One tobacco-related bill that went nowhere was Senate Bill 3123, which would have made it illegal for those under 18 years old to possess any tobacco product.

It was scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday but was then shelved, probably because it failed to attract support from even the most ardent anti-smoking interests.

Those included the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii and the American Heart Association, both of which submitted written testimony in opposition to the bill.

“Evidence does not support that legislation making youth use and possession of tobacco products unlawful reduces youth tobacco use,” the coalition said. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outline a number of proven strategies to prevent youth tobacco use, none of which include criminalizing youth for possession or using tobacco products.”

The American Heart Association agreed, saying that the massive marketing efforts of tobacco products – which it said amounts to nearly $25 million annually in Hawaii alone – should be targeted first.

“Rather than focus efforts on punishing the victims of tobacco, we need to focus on the victimizers,” the association said.

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