It’s part of the Keiki Caucus package of bills at the Legislature.

Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death both in Hawaii and the nation.

The Hawaii Legislature estimates that the annual related health care costs in the state exceed $500 million.

And smoking starts at an early age.

“Approximately 95% of smokers start before the age of 21 — yes, you heard that right —95%,” Zoe Slentz said Friday at a press conference at the Capitol. “And flavored tobacco products only exacerbate this statistic.”

Zoe Slentz, at the podium, at the unveiling of the Keiki Caucus package of bills for 2024 at the Legislature Friday at the Capitol. (Chad Blair/Civil Beat/2024)

Slentz, a high school senior, is active with the Hawaii Public Health Institute’s Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii. She said that 80% of youth begin their tobacco habit with a flavored product, something she says she has witnessed firsthand.

House Bill 1778 and its Senate companion would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and mislabeled e-liquid products that contain nicotine. Those bills and others also call for clarifying that counties may take the lead regulating the sale of cigarettes, tobacco products and electronic smoking devices — so long as they don’t conflict with state laws.

“The City and County of Honolulu and Hawaii (County) have passed bills banning flavors, but we need the state to take action to allow this legislation to take effect,” said Slentz.

The bills have the backing of Sen. Karl Rhoads, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I would just emphasize that tobacco every year in the United States alone kills 440,000 people — 440,000 people,” he said. “That’s more than all the Americans who died in World War II.”

The tobacco bills are part of the Hawaii State Legislature’s Keiki Caucus. Other measures address tax credits for dependent care, dental hygiene and a tuition pilot program for University of Hawaii Community Colleges.

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