It’s official: Hawaii has raised its legal smoking age from 18 to 21. Starting January 1, 2016, the sale, use and possession of cigarettes and e-cigarettes will be prohibited for adults under age 21; first-time offenders will be fined $10 and subsequent violations will result in a $50 penalty or community service.
“Raising the minimum age as part of our comprehensive tobacco control efforts will help reduce tobacco use among our youth and increase the likelihood that our keiki [the Hawaiian word for children] will grow up tobacco-free,” said Hawaii Governor David Ige, in a statement to the Associated Press.
While similar bans do exist in counties and cities – including Hawaii County; Columbia, Missouri; and New York City – and some states, including Alabama and New Jersey, have raised the legal smoking age to 19, Hawaii is the first state to take the leap to banning tobacco and e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 21.
The Difference Between 18 and 21
These additional three years matter. By raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21, Hawaii could reduce smoking prevalence in the state by roughly 12%, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences. Within the state, some 1,400 people die from tobacco use or exposure every year, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and 90% of Hawaii’s habitual smokers begin before age 19.
Naysayers, however, argue that 21 is too high: “You can sign contracts, you can get married, you can go to war and lose an arm or lose an eye … you come back and you’re 20 years old and you can’t have a cigarette,” said state senator Gil Riviere (D), who voted against the bill, in a statement.
For others, the law couldn’t come at a better time, especially when it comes to e-cigarettes. According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, e-cigarette use has tripled in the past year among middle- and high-school students. In 2013, roughly 666,000 high school students reported using this nicotine delivery system, and in 2014, that number increased to about two million. Rates among middle-school students rose from 120,000 to 450,000 during the same period.
In Hawaii, the favorite flavors among e-cig-hooked teens are “sweet tart and unicorn puke, which is described as a combination of every flavor of Skittle in one,” said state senator Rosalyn Baker (D), who introduced the bill, in a statement. “While the industry is not allowed to directly market to children, it is still developing packaging and advertising products in ways that appeal to children.”
Whether this law will thwart or delay nicotine abuse among Hawaiian kids and teens is yet to be determined. But the legislation is already sparking similar laws in California and Washington state. In both states, legislation to raise the legal smoking age is now with the state’s assembly for vote.
Nicotine is among the most common addictive drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Do you think the legal smoking age should be raised to age 21 in your state?