Updated 3:35 p.m., 4/24/2015

Hawaii is just one step away from becoming the first state to ban people under 21 from being able to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, or smoke them in public.

Senate Bill 1030 passed the Legislature on Friday and will go to Gov. David Ige’s desk for his signature. The bill would raise the purchasing age of tobacco products from 18 to 21, and prohibit anyone under 21 from consuming tobacco products in a public place.

That includes e-cigarettes, which the bill says exposes users to nicotine.

Update: Ige said Friday afternoon that he hasn’t decided yet whether he’ll sign the bill into law, which would take effect Jan. 1. He wants it to be vetted by the appropriate state departments first and then he’ll consider it.

No Smoking sign

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

“Today, Hawaii made history … this bold step will reduce smoking among young people, save lives and help make the next generation tobacco-free,” said Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in a press release Friday.

Several cities and counties — including New York City and Hawaii County — have already raised the purchasing age for cigarettes to 21. But most states set the age at 18 or 19.

Officials in California and Washington are also looking to raise the smoking age in light of recent research that shows the health benefits of increasing the minimum age to buy tobacco products.

“Children were getting a mixed message — they couldn’t buy cigarettes, but it was perfectly fine for them to light up,” Sen. Glenn Wakai said in a statement. “Today we snuffed out that glaring loophole.”

A House news release says this was a nine-year effort for Wakai, who partnered with students from Moanalua High School in 2006. They identified this loophole and introduced a consumption prohibition bill. That bill has been reintroduced each year since then.

House Health Chair Della Au Belatti pointed at statistics from the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office showing 95 percent of all adult smokers start smoking before age 21, and three out of four teenage smokers continue to smoke into adulthood.

“With the passing of this bill, like the ordinance recently passed in Hawaii County, our state is once again leading the way and taking a proactive, public health approach to help prevent our young people from trying and becoming addicted to tobacco products,” she said.

The fine for a first offense would be $10 for anyone under 21 who is caught possessing or publicly consuming a tobacco product. The fine for subsequent offenses will be $50 or up to 72 hours of community service, the release says.

Anyone caught selling tobacco products or electronic smoking devices to persons under 21 years of age would face a fine of $500 for the first offense, the release says. Subsequent offenses would be subject to fines of $500 to $2,000.

Lawmakers are also considering proposals to prohibit smoking at state hospital facilities and ban tobacco products in state parks.

Another bill, House Bill 940, that would ban people from smoking e-cigarettes wherever traditional smoking is banned, was signed into law Thursday by the governor.

About the Authors