Hawaii Raises Smoking Age to 21

by | June 23, 2015

By B.J. Reyes

Hawaii becomes the first state to raise the minimum age for the use of tobacco products to 21, while also banning the use of all tobacco products at public parks and beaches statewide.

Gov. David Ige signed both measures Friday in a ceremony in his office. "It really does further our commitment to good health policy," Ige said. "We already have the longest life expectancy in the country for a wide variety of reasons, and I do believe that taking these actions here today will only strengthen and lengthen the opportunity for our citizens to lead healthy and fulfilling lives."

Senate Bill 1030, which takes effect July 1, prohibits the sale, purchase, possession or consumption of cigarettes, other tobacco products and electronic smoking devices -- or e-cigarettes -- to anyone under the age of 21.

Advocates called it a historic day for Hawaii.

"We are first in the nation," Sen. Rosalyn Baker (D, West Maui-South Maui) said after the ceremony. "We're leading the nation in following the Institute of Medicine's recommendation that we raise the age to help save lives and save all of the bad effects of starting smoking early."

A report released in March by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies studied the impacts of raising the minimum smoking age from 18. Baker cited statistics showing that by raising the age to 21, the odds of someone becoming a lifetime smoker increase to 1 in every 20, compared with 1 in 3 if the age is 18.

"It gives them time to mature and think about what they're doing," she said. "Also, studies show you're going to give them a longer, healthier life, and it's going to add money and more productivity into the workforce -- people will not be sick as a result of a lot of smoking-related diseases."

Cory Chun, government relations manager for the American Cancer Society-Cancer Action Network, cited a U.S. Surgeon General's report that showed 95 percent of all smokers started before the age of 21.

"The whole purpose of this measure is to just delay the initiation into tobacco when young people might make better decisions at 21," Chun said. Meanwhile, House Bill 525 prohibits smoking and use of tobacco products at state parks, including beaches.

Holding a plastic jar filled with dozens of discarded cigarette butts picked up from public beaches across the state, environmental advocate Suzanne Frazer applauded the measure, noting that the statewide ban follows the lead of Hawaii's counties, which already have enacted similar ordinances.

"It will result in a cleaner and healthier environment for not only residents, but also visitors as well as marine life," said Frazer, co-founder of Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii. "Cigarette butts are made of plastic ... and plastic never biodegrades, so it doesn't go away.

"When those cigarette butts get into the ocean, they get ingested by marine life, and they also accumulate other chemicals when they're in the ocean."

Electronic cigarettes are included in the ban.

"We have, for many decades now, been aware of the bad outcomes for secondhand smoke," Ige said. "This allows us to put one more impediment into people smoking too much.

"More importantly, when you talk to people who are users of the park and people who are responsible for keeping our parks clean, cigarette smoking and cigarette butts are a huge, huge challenge."

(c)2015 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser