Measure that would ban smoking, vaping at all UH campuses advances

  • Richard Onishi
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    A sign thanks students for not smoking on campus at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban smoking and vaping on all University of Hawaii campuses.

Senate Bill 134 would prohibit tobacco use, smoking and electronic smoking devices at every facility owned or operated by UH. Currently UH-Manoa and Kapiolani Community College are the only campuses that ban smoking completely.

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The bill was introduced last year but died in the House. It was resurrected Wednesday when it cleared the House committees on Health & Human Services and Higher Education. It next must pass through the House committee on Labor & Public Employment.

“The state of Hawaii has been one of the leading states in regards to trying to ensure we have a healthy environment,” said state Rep. Richard Onishi on Wednesday. “We already have smoke-free state hospitals and other (state facilities), so I think this would be another good nexus for trying to protect people’s health. … We are not telling them they can’t smoke. We are just telling them where they cannot smoke.”

Onishi, a Democrat representing Hilo, voted in favor of the bill.

At UH-Hilo, campus policy prohibits tobacco product use inside buildings, on outdoor common areas such as lanai and courtyards, and within 20 feet of building entrances and exits. Smoking also is prohibited within 50 feet of pick-up and drop-off points for public bus transportation, and inside outdoor stadiums and arenas.

There are no designated smoking stations at UH-Hilo, though outdoor cigarette receptacles are positioned around campus.

Ken Ikeda, UH-Hilo environmental safety specialist, said he thinks the receptacles were placed to prevent people from throwing cigarette butts on the ground or in regular trash cans.

At Hawaii Community College, smoking and vaping are allowed in most outdoor places at least 25 feet away from buildings.

About 13 percent of Hawaii adults smoked in 2017, a rate that has declined steadily through the years. However, vaping rates are reportedly on the rise, particularly among youth.

An estimated 45 percent of Hawaii high school students say they have used e-cigarettes, according to the state Department of Health, and vaping is now considered the most commonly used tobacco product among young people nationally.

Onishi said vaping was included in the ban because “it’s new, and we don’t know its long-term consequences so we’re erring on the side of (caution).”

According to the bill, more than 760 colleges nationally ban smoking, and many of those bans include electronic smoking.

Smokers at UH-Hilo on Wednesday opposed the idea of a ban because they said current places to smoke already are limited.

“If we can’t smoke on campus, we’d probably have to go off campus and smoke in the rain,” said one junior who smokes but declined to provide her name. “We’re people, too — we have rights, and we shouldn’t have to be out in the rain. It’s a habit. Maybe we shouldn’t have it, but it’s my way of dealing with stress.”

Senior David Griffith, who said he vapes e-cigarettes at low levels to deal with stress, said he’s not sure a ban would work.

“I’m more of a choice kind of guy,” Griffith said, noting he sees more UH-Hilo students vaping than smoking traditional cigarettes. “If you want to do it, go ahead. I don’t want to be told I can’t do something, I’d rather have the choice of whether I’ll do it or not.”

“They’re still going to do it,” added student Roxy Morante, also a vaper. “When you tell people they can’t do something, they become rebellious.”

However, UH-Hilo student Julio Saenz applauded the idea because he said he often sees people smoking outside restrooms and in common areas and ignoring visible “No smoking” signs.

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“I think it’s a good thing,” Saenz said about the bill. “The Manoa campus already is nonsmoking, so we should have it here, too. I think it’s better.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.