East Hawaii News

Council Toughens Restrictions on Tobacco Sales, Including E-Cigarettes

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The County Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill outlawing the sale of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 21.

Bill 135 contains a “grandfather” clause that exempts anyone 18 years of age or older as of June 30, 2014, the day before the bill goes into effect.

Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha, who introduced the bill, said he expects Mayor Billy Kenoi to sign it into law, noting that it is in keeping with the mayor’s ongoing health initiatives.

“If we can stop even a handful of keiki from getting addicted to tobacco, then this bill is doing what it’s intended to do,” Kanuha told Big Island Now.

Kanuha said testimony submitted to the council on the measure was overwhelmingly in support.

He said approximately five people testified against the proposed law, with most saying that since those over 18 can serve in the military, they should also be able to purchase tobacco products.

If it gets Kenoi’s approval, the bill means the county will join a small but growing group of local governments restricting the sales to those 21 and over.

That includes New York City, whose mayor, Michael Bloomberg, signed such a bill into law on Tuesday.

As with state and federal laws, the Hawaii County bill applies only to the sale or distribution of tobacco products, and not to their use.

There are already state and federal laws which prohibit the sale of tobacco and “smokeless tobacco” products to anyone under the age of 18.

But the perception of the latter has become somewhat murky in recent years with the introduction of e-cigarettes, which are battery-operated devices that heat liquid-based nicotine to create a vapor that is inhaled.

In that regard, Hawaii County joins nine states in classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products. Some other states regulate them while defining them as something else, such as “vapor products.”

In September, the attorneys general for Hawaii and 38 other states petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products and include them in restrictions on advertising and ingredients.

According to the Washington Post, the FDA is proposing to do just that, which has industry lobbyists scrambling to weigh in on where they can be used and how they will be taxed.

Noting that e-cigarette marketing includes advertising aimed at youth, the attorneys general particularly want the US Food and Drug Administration to ban their sale to those under 18.

As of Oct. 29, 25 states and the District of Columbia were already doing that, the newspaper said.

The states of Utah, North Dakota, Arkansas and New Jersey have included e-cigarettes in indoor smoking bans, and California, Connecticut and Massachusetts are considering doing the same, the Post reported.

***Updated at 12:54 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22.***


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