Hawaii can expect to see more federal oversight of tobacco and vaping sales beginning this month, now that the federal government has caught up with Hawaii in prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21. 

The Hawaii Department of Health issued a warning this week to companies that make, distribute or sell flavored cartridge- or pod-based e-cigarettes to stop sales by the end of January, or risk penalties by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

President Donald Trump’s December approval to raise the federal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 echoes rules that Hawaii implemented five years ago. It was the first state to do so.

The FDA made its official enforcement policy known on Jan. 2. Its rules do not affect tobacco and menthol-flavored products.

Juul Vape e cigarette material at 7 11 convenience shop at McCully Shopping Center.
The federal government classifies Juul electronic smoking device products along with traditional cigarettes. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Until now, federal authorities have only penalized shops across the nation that sell tobacco products to minors under the age of 18. Starting in February, they will penalize shops that sell to people under the age of 21.

Since enacting a similar law about five years ago, the Hawaii Department of Health has inspected thousands of tobacco shops for compliance. Last year, 56 of the 1,324 shops inspected by DOH failed, indicating that the establishments sold a tobacco product such as an e-cigarette to a minor.

Angela Bolan, manager of the Quality Assurance and Improvement Office at the Hawaii Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division, said the state contracts with four county police departments to enforce the law.  

Several Hawaii tobacco shops have also been hit with federal civil penalties by the FDA for selling to those 18 and under.

Last year, a 7-Eleven in Waianae was fined $285 for two separate incidents last year in which it sold a Juul mint e-liquid to one minor and a VUSE solo menthol e-liquid to another minor.

Another shop, The Waianae Express on Farrington Highway, was fined three times in a row for tobacco related sales to minors.

In light of Hawaii’s high rates of vaping among youth, some Hawaii legislators are considering a ban on the sale of all flavored e-cigarette products. Others are considering raising penalties for minors who are caught with vaping paraphernalia.

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