As chair of the Health Committee in the Hawaii House of Representatives, I know we must continue pushing for additional restrictions on e-cigarettes.

NOTE: pick the correct link

Although the Legislature made the purchase and sale of e-cigarettes illegal for anyone younger than 21 in 2015, this hasn’t stopped teens from vaping. Children are attracted to the sleekly designed devices with sweet-flavored vaping liquid that often contain more nicotine than a pack of cigarettes.

We must stop the addiction of children to vaping.

Hawaii’s youth vaping epidemic is threatening the decades of public health progress we’ve made against smoking. In fact, the 25.5% rate of youth e-cigarette use that we’re seeing now is much higher than what the rate of adult smoking was 20 years ago, when it was 19.9%.

Hawaii’s middle schools have the highest vaping rates in the nation and when combined with K-12 grades we have the dubious recognition of having the second highest rate of students vaping in the nation.

House Chambers Legislature opening 2019.
A key lawmaker says vaping bills will be a priority of the Hawaii Legislature in 2020. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Can we mandate healthy behavior? The answer is yes.

I believe that we must address this alarming trend and pass additional restrictions on e-cigarettes such as removing all flavors and requiring taxation and licensing before more children are hooked on nicotine. I believe that such legislation is necessary as we’ve seen how effective these policies were in reducing our smoking rates over the years.

Provide Resources To Rehabilitate Youth

I’ve learned from parents, teachers, and health officials that there are currently no resources to treat youth for nicotine addiction. Cessation treatment options such as nicotine replacement therapy are designed for adults. Because youth are not vaping to quit cigarettes, there is no safe level of nicotine for youth and there are no approved treatment guidelines to help youth break their addiction.

This is why I will be introducing a bill in the 2020 legislative session to increase the tobacco tax and allocate the revenue toward a comprehensive youth tobacco cessation program. The cigarette tax of 16 cents per stick or $3.20 per pack was last raised in 2011 and there is currently no tobacco tax being collected on e-cigarettes. The best way to fight this epidemic is to raise the funds to help treat our youth and beat this addiction.

At the Oct. 17 informational briefing at the Legislature, Frank Chaloupka, who is an economist from the University of Illinois at Chicago, projected that every $1 increase in cigarette excise tax in Hawaii would raise $12.9 million in new tax revenue, prevent 2,900 children from smoking, and encourage 4,400 adults smokers to quit.

Potentially, millions of dollars from this sin tax can be used to provide the state Department of Health and the Department of Education with much-needed resources for our keiki. These resources can help support counseling-based treatment and referral programs in schools and hospitals and to fund a statewide public awareness campaign on the dangers of vaping.

My colleagues at the Legislature recognize that this is a public health crisis and that we need to do something about it now. I will work with them and with stakeholders to push for regulatory action and to allocate resources to save our keiki from a deadly addiction.

It’s time to win back the game on health.

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