East Hawaii News

Hawai‘i First State to Raise Smoking Age to 21

April 24, 2015, 2:21 PM HST
* Updated April 24, 2:32 PM
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The Hawai‘i State Senate passed a new law this morning, April 24, requiring anyone purchasing, possessing, or consuming tobacco or e-cigarette products to be of legal drinking age.  The bill is being sent to Governor David Ige for approval.

If signed, the law will take effect January 1, 2016, when the legal age for tobacco and e-cigarette purchases and use will be raised from 18 to 21 years of age.

The approved measure aims to reduce tobacco use among Hawai‘i youth.  According to a 2012 report by the U.S. Surgeon General, 95% of adult smokers begin the habit before they turn 21.

In a scientific report issued in 2015 by the Institute of Medicine, youth were found to be more vulnerable to developing addictions because of their nascent brain development.  The same report concluded that raising the legal smoking age nationally would reduce smoking from 17.8% to an estimated 12%.

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz says the passage of the bill marks a “significant achievement in public health.”

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“Hawaii is poised to become the first state in the nation to raise the minimum age. I am pleased that the State has included e-cigarettes as part of the new law. With the explosion of e-cigarette use among teens, more and more of our kids are developing an unhealthy addiction to nicotine. This law is an important step in helping to make our next generation tobacco free,” said Sen. Schatz.

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Jessica Yamauchi, executive director of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii (CTFH), says the new law is a “historic measure.”

“As the first state in the nation to raise the minimum age of access to tobacco products to 21, Hawaii leads in trying to cut the vicious addiction to smoking among our youth. Our state’s passage of this landmark bill provides an incredible boost to other states considering similar legislation,” said Yamauchi.

Under the new law, anyone under 21 years old caught in possession or consumption of a tobacco product will be fined $10 for the first offense, with subsequent offenses fined $50 or up to 72 hours of community service.

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Tobacco and e-cigarette vendors who are caught selling products to persons under 21 years old will face fines of $500 for the first offense, and subsequent offenses increasing to $500 – $2000.

The new law will also extend the exemption to allow persons under 21 to participate in official tobacco sale sting operations.

According to a 2014 statewide poll of Hawai‘i residents, 77% of voters support the new law.

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