About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Oahu and the Big Island have recently done it at the county level. The state needs to follow their lead.

As a former smoker it makes me furious to see tobacco companies year after year successfully persuade Hawaii lawmakers to kill legislation calling for a statewide ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products.

I am talking about the state lawmakers who ignore the pleas from students, parents and teachers to ban the candy-flavored electronic cigarettes that hook kids as young as elementary schoolers on nicotine. And then there are those who are reluctant to prohibit sales of the menthol-flavored cigarettes that introduce many children and young adults to smoking.

Worse and even more cynical are the lawmakers who continue to uphold a provision sneaked into a diabetes center certification bill in a late night conference committee in 2018 to prohibit the counties from passing laws regulating tobacco that are stricter than current state laws.

“State-level preemption is classic tactic the tobacco industry uses across the country to stop county-level laws to halt flavored tobacco sales,” says Scott Stensrud, statewide youth coordinator for the Hawaii Public Health Institute.

Honolulu and Hawaii counties have recently adopted laws to ban flavored tobacco in their respective jurisdictions. But they are unable to enact the bans because state law continues to allow the sale of flavored tobacco products.

State Rep. Scot Matayoshi feels the same anger I do about sneaky tobacco industry tactics to preserve laws promoting products that can damage the health of young people.

“It pisses me off that tobacco companies are allowed to keep selling drugs to kids,” he says.

A display of the many fruit and candy flavors tobacco companies have created to entice kids to use their flavored tobacco products. (Courtesy: Hawaii Public Health Institute)
A display of the many fruit and candy flavors tobacco companies have created to entice kids to use their flavored tobacco products. (Courtesy: Hawaii Public Health Institute)

Matayoshi — a former seventh grade science teacher at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School — has been the champion in the state House of Representatives for banning flavored tobacco products.

“I canʻt believe it is legal to sell tobacco geared to get children addicted to nicotine for the rest of their lives and the health consequences that come with that. It is unconscionable to me,” he says.

People under 21 in Hawaii are prohibited from buying tobacco products including electronic smoking devices and e-liquids, but they can easily get around the law by buying them online or from older friends.

In each of the six years Matayohi has been in office he has sponsored bills to prohibit sales of flavored tobacco products — the omnipresent electronic smoking devices with names like cotton candy, li hing mui, gummy bear, bubble gum — clearly engineered by tobacco companies to entice the young to inhale nicotine.

The inaction of the Legislature is even more daunting to the many student advocates who show up year after year yet still fail to persuade state lawmakers to do the job they were elected to do, which includes protecting children from danger.

“It is discouraging and depressing when you know kids are continuing to fall into a pit of vaping and their nicotine addiction makes them stop doing the things they love, and to watch them become different people, no longer interested in school, no longer interested in sports, only interested in smoking,” Punahou School freshman Luke Itomura said Saturday in a phone conservation.

Itomura and Samantha Lay, a senior at Roosevelt High School and his colleague in the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii Youth Council, wrote a Community Voice for Civil Beat in October on the dangers of selling flavored tobacco to young people.

Itomura and Lay were among the young people who successfully persuaded the Honolulu City Council to pass Bill 46 — the ban on Oahu of all flavored tobacco sales except for premium cigars and hookah pipe tobacco.

From left, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, Samantha Lay, Luke Itomura, Punahou School junior Chanci Chung and City Council Member Matt Weyer pose at the signing into law of an Oahu ban on flavored tobacco products. (Courtesy: Hawaii Public Health Institute)
Student advocates Samantha Lay, Luke Itomura and Chanci Chung pose with Mayor Rick Blangiardi, left, and City Council Member Matt Weyer, right. (Courtesy: Hawaii Public Health Institute/2023)

Even though health advocates have failed for nearly a decade to get a statewide ban on flavored tobacco, Matayoshi, other supportive lawmakers and student advocates hope this year to be successful because they are taking a different path.

Instead of putting all their energy on pushing for a statewide ban on flavored tobacco, they will advocate for a bill to revoke the state law that prohibits the counties from enacting stricter ordinances than those of the state.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi on Oct. 20 signed into law the city’s ban on flavored tobacco. On Jan. 10, the Hawaii island council members passed a similar flavored tobacco ban for the Big Island that’s expected to be signed into law by Mayor Mitch Roth on Wednesday. Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Maui passed a similar ban.

Blangiardi called the ban on flavored tobacco products on Oahu a powerful first step but added that broader support is needed.

“We cannot do it alone. We need the state to give us the power to regulate tobacco products so this law can go into effect. Our state Legislature needs to pass bills that will help us complete the job,” Blangiardi said at the bill’s signing.

Matayoshi says with two counties on board to ban flavored tobacco products, state lawmakers should be more willing to step up to the plate to protect the health of the communities they were elected to serve.

He hopes to work with Sen. Brandon Elefante to get a bill through both the House and the Senate to revoke state preemption this year.

“The Legislature lacks the will to pass a statewide ban on flavored tobacco products this year, but if we can reinstate the counties’ power to regulate their own county tobacco sales ordinances we could arrive at a total ban by a different road, especially if Maui and Kauai counties pass their own flavored tobacco bans,” Matayoshi said.

Maui High School junior Dylan Arisumi and Seabury Hall student Kailana Hagen will be writing testimony and showing up at County Council meetings to try to persuade members to pass a local ban on flavored tobacco products on the Valley Isle.

Arisumi said she is saddened to see fellow students at Maui High crowding into the school bathrooms to vape and some teachers at the school not doing anything to stop it.

“It is really upsetting to know adults are not stepping up to protect the youth from the negative health impacts of tobacco addiction,” she said.

Arisumi flew from Maui to Honolulu for Wednesday’s opening of the Hawaii Legislature. She and Lay walked office to office to interest lawmakers in joining their crusade to keep tobacco out of the hands of youth.

Yale University sophomore Joshua Chung testifies on bills to curtail the sales of flavored tobacco products when he is back in Hawaii. (Courtesy: Hawaii Public Health Institute)
Yale University sophomore Joshua Ching testifies on bills against sales of flavored tobacco products when he is back in Hawaii. (Courtesy: Hawaii Public Health Institute)

Some of Hawaii’s youth have been working on this issue for so long they have already graduated from high school and are in college on the mainland.

Joshua Ching became active in the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii Youth Council when he was a freshman at Kamehameha Schools. Now he is a sophomore at Yale University. Although Ching is on the east coast, he keeps active by submitting testimony electronically on tobacco bills and showing up in person to testify when he is home in the summer.

“I think people are very aware now of the sly tactics of the tobacco industry and its outpouring of money to influence lawmakers to kill and stall bills that would limit tobacco sales,” Ching said in a phone call from New Haven, Connecticut. “That awareness coupled with the fact two counties have passed their own county flavored tobacco bans should send a message to lawmakers that there is strong support at the grassroots level for banning flavored tobacco in Hawaii.”

I hope so. It would be about time.

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Latest Comments (0)

How about banning alcohol which ruin lives, relationships, health and impaired drivers. We need to impound cars that are used by impaired drivers and sell it. This will make sure that all violators will be punished and not get off on a technicality. There's a lot of school kids consuming alcohol which is readily available especially with flavored ones. This is a long shot because it is all about money. Taxes government , gifts to lawmakers that protect alcohol industry. I'm sure if vape was heavily taxed this would not be an issue like alcohol.

2cents · 1 month ago

Less power to the state and legislators to control what adults do with their own money and body. I can drink 12 white claws or 1/5th of flavored vodka. I should also be able to vape a fruity nicotine thing. However I don’t drink or smoke, but I don’t think the state should decide what I can or can’t do.

Jdawg45 · 1 month ago

Aloha,I do NOT understand the degree of opposition with a ban on flavored tabacco.The bottom line is , it is way to easily accessible to our youth. I have talked with some of my nephews, (altho they are 21 and 24 respectively) and the "excuse" is : well, you don't smell stink like you do with cigarettes . Altho, they both admitted they cough more, and teeth feel fuzzy even after brushing.... (go figure...) Our legislators need to put this ban into effect, and add an extra tax on. That is the other famous excuse; " it's cheaper and it lasts longer".... Please... gimmie a break... if you don't wanna ban it... TAX IT !!!!

taxpayingauntie · 1 month ago

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