Tuesday, Aug. 09, 2022|
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Legislation has been a key weapon in the fight against smoking and vaping in Hawaii County.
Several bills supported by Hawaii Public Health Institute, or HPHI, resulted in significant drops in cigarette use, down to 5.3% of teens in Hawaii as of 2019.
In 2014, Hawaii County became the fourth county in the nation to raise the age of sale to 21, a decision followed by the state in 2016.
“What happened in Hawaii County ended up being a federal law,” said Sally Ancheta, who serves as East Hawaii’s Drug Free Coalition coordinator. “Nationally now, you have to be 21 years old to purchase tobacco products. We’re really proud of that work.”
But despite raising the age, keiki continue to get vapes and electronic smoking devices through other methods.
The 2019-2020 Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs study stated 21.6% of Hawaii County youth reported somebody giving them vape products, 12.5% got them in school, and 7.7% gave money to someone to purchase products for them.
Legislation introduced this year tried to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes, ESD flavors and flavored tobacco. But amendments added to House Bill 1570 by tobacco lobbyists resulted in Gov. David Ige’s decision to veto the bill.
“There was a late amendment to the definition of ‘flavored tobacco product’ in this bill which exempted certain FDA-approved tobacco products,” Ige explained. “This amendment essentially renders the bill ineffective since very few products would actually be included in this ban.”
Both Ancheta Jahkotta Lewis, Tobacco Free Hawaii Island Coalition coordinator, said amendments are a common tactic among big tobacco lobbyists.
“These types of amendments are not unique to Hawaii,” said Lewis. “And we don’t want that kind of influence when we’re making these bills. They’re looking for loopholes and ways to keep us tied up in litigation so they can continue to sell their products.”
The tactic also was used in House Bill 1895, which passed in 2018 and essentially banned the counties from being able to regulate the sale of tobacco and ESD products.
“It took away the county’s ability to pass any restrictions on the sale of tobacco and ESD products,” said Lewis. “It made it so we can’t make any ordinances stronger than what the state has, and it takes away the power of the community and the power of our local representatives.”
Despite challenges, HPHI plans to introduce legislation next year to ban flavored vaping products.
“We definitely want to continue to push for a flavor ban. It’s hard work, long work, but it’s really targeting our keiki,” said Lewis. “We know according to the statistics that for adults in Hawaii, only 6% vape. And when adults vape, they don’t go after apple juice and skittles flavors.”
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