About the Author

Josh Burnett

Josh Burnett is owner and founder of Volcano e-cigs. From a small kiosk in Pearlridge Center, he has grown the business to become Hawaii’s largest retailer of vape products.

I was disappointed by recent Civil Beat coverage on a proposal at the state Legislature to ban flavored tobacco and vape products, “Hawaii Seemed Poised to Adopt a Vape Flavor Ban Then Came the Amendments.” It seemed largely one sided and appeared to unfairly question the motives of some of the lawmakers.

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In 2009, I established Volcano as Hawaii’s original vape shop. Since that time, we’ve grown to 16 locations providing customizable vape products that are an alternative to tobacco for adults in the islands.

In addition, my company takes every precaution to ensure our products do not fall into the hands of our local youth.

The problem I have with the story is that it didn’t even bother to ask or explain how the ban is supposed to address youth smoking and vaping. This is the entire purpose of the measure according to advocates, yet there was no discussion of the bill’s merits.

Here’s why that matters. It is already illegal to sell tobacco and vape, flavored or not, to anyone under 21 years old. It is also illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to even possess these items.

So why aren’t we enforcing the existing laws if we have such an epidemic of underage vaping or smoking? More importantly, how is a ban on flavors supposed to help?

Bans Don’t Work

It’s obvious that bans don’t work — it certainly hasn’t stopped fireworks. Anyone with a pulse on New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July can attest to that. On those holidays, there’s so many illegal fireworks being lit that you can barely see 10 feet in front of you in certain neighborhoods due to all the smoke.

Sure, maybe you can’t buy fireworks at Longs anymore, but it’s obviously being imported without much trouble and readily available through a vast underground market. I fully expect that’ll happen for flavored vape and tobacco. Enterprising criminals or online vendors will happily sell to locals, including keiki, and ship flavored products to the islands to fill the gap in the market.

Rep. Ryan Yamane, who amended the bill, rightfully recognized this core shortcoming of the ban. Seems logical therefore that he would assign responsibilities to the Department of Health and attorney general to ensure that there’s some sort of enforcement.

Representative Ryan Yamane looks up to the gallery as lawmakers make introductions of guests.
Rep. Ryan Yamane amended the vaping bill for very good reasons, the author argues. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

It’s shocking then that the bill’s advocates would question Yamane’s motives when making these changes since his actions are totally justified. It’s even worse that they would suggest campaign contributions from tobacco companies caused him to add these requirements in the bill.

If the reporter or advocates had bothered to conduct an analysis across industries rather than just looking at tobacco and vape, I bet they would find that health care providers and insurers contribute exponentially more than tobacco companies to legislators’ campaigns each year.

Furthermore, if elected officials were so easily swayed by donations as advocates suggest then a ban would have been enacted years ago. After all, medical insurers and others in the health care industry have routinely been on the other side of tobacco interests in policy debates.

An onerous ban will only hurt hundreds of local businesses and employees.

Obviously, it’s far easier and politically safer to rubber stamp a bill being supported by young high school students fighting for a good cause. However, I actually appreciate that Yamane was brave enough to thoughtfully examine the issue and exercise a little common sense.

If we’re not enforcing the existing law that is supposed to protect everyone under age 21, then how do we expect to enforce a ban on flavors?

Surely we can do better. The only sensible way to keep Hawaii’s youth safe is through enforcement, not with new laws.

Moreover, an onerous ban will only hurt hundreds of local businesses and employees while leading to the growth of an illegal underground market.

Advocates should be pushing instead to utilize the millions of dollars in tobacco settlement funds to provide enforcement resources rather than pursuing a ban that we know won’t work.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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About the Author

Josh Burnett

Josh Burnett is owner and founder of Volcano e-cigs. From a small kiosk in Pearlridge Center, he has grown the business to become Hawaii’s largest retailer of vape products.

Latest Comments (0)

Oh please. When have we known enforcement in Hawai'i? Do the police capture the thousands of burglars and thiefs running around? Does the DPP enforce the laws regarding the thousands of illegal vacation rentals? And the DLNR enforce the no hunting, hiking or fishing in conservation areas?

Leinani · 1 year ago

Mahalo, Civil Beat, for publishing another viewpoint on this story. It has been well reported that teenagers prefer mint and fruit flavored nicotine vapes, and more regulation of the vape industry to restrict access to minors has resulted. I have yet to see, however, a thorough study reported by an unbiased neutral source on the health impact of nicotine vaping by former tobacco smoking adults, who also prefer mint and fruit flavored nicotine.Yes, in a perfect world no adult would inhale nicotine or drink alcohol. Prohibition hasn’t worked with these substances, or with marijuana. If teenagers who drank alcohol illegally only liked, say, beer, who would think it fair to outlaw beer for adults?

Bett · 1 year ago

Degradation of values = parents that grew up not wanting to be "enforced" to do the right thing let their kids do whatevahs. And, kids are smart and finding stuff that they shouldn't. It takes a community to call them out. Do your part, see something, say something.

time4truth · 1 year ago

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