Hawaii raises age to buy tobacco

LIHUE — If you’re between the ages of 18 and 21 and have decided 2016 is your year to stop smoking, you now have one more reason to keep that New Year’s resolution.

A new law that raises the minimum age to buy tobacco products and electronic smoking devices from 18 to 21 goes into effect New Year’s Day, making Hawaii the first state to enact such measures.

“I think it’s great,” said John Sagud of Lihue, who started smoking when he was 13. “I smoked for 37 years. My friend just said, ‘Try it.’ It’s hard to stop. The later they start, the better it is.”

He said he thinks education on the topic is especially important. He remembers learning about smoking in health class when he was in sixth-grade, but that’s when it stopped. He praises the new law for “finally doing something about it.”

“We are proud to once again be at the forefront of the nation in tobacco prevention and control,” said Hawaii Director of Health Virginia Pressler in a news release. “While our comprehensive approach to addressing tobacco use in Hawaii has led to quantifiable decreases in deaths due to smoking, an increase in targeted marketing to our youth and young adults and new technology in the form of e-cigarettes requires our state to take additional measures to protect our young people.”

But not everyone thinks the new law should take effect.

Oscar Montejo of Kapaa said he’s been smoking since he was 10. He started serving this country when he was 17.

“You can go fight for your country, but you can’t smoke a cigarette?” Montejo asked.

Montejo said there’s really no point in raising the limit because kids will get their hands on cigarettes any way they can.

The two acts signed into law by Gov. David Ige were passed in the last legislative session of 2015.

The other measure that takes effect in January is one that makes e-cigarettes part of Hawaii’s smoke-free laws, making the use of e-cigarettes now banned in areas where regular tobacco products once were.

Act 122 cites a study that shows electronic smoking devices are prevalent among youth in Hawaii, and also states youth tend to view electronic smoking devices as healthier than cigarettes, when that tends to not be the case as it has found to expose those who use e-cigs to nicotine.

“Acts 122 and 19 make tobacco products including e-cigarettes less accessible and less attractive to our youth,” said Lola Irvin, administrator for the Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division in a news release. “Prevention is the best strategy, and youth are especially vulnerable to nicotine addiction. By prohibiting their use in public places, the new laws encourage a no-smoking norm.”

A clerk at OG Smoke Shop Kauai said the owner has already put a sign in front of the store warning potential buyers of the new law that will soon take affect.

If a store sells tobacco products to those under 21 and fails to put up a sign that says “The sale of tobacco products or electronic smoking devices to persons under twenty-one is prohibited,” it could mean hefty fines of $500 for the first offense and up to $2,000 for subsequent offenses.

Anyone who is caught purchasing tobacco illegally has to pay a fine of $10 for the first offense and up to $50 for the next offense. Community service is also an option.

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Michelle Iracheta, cops and courts reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or miracheta@thegardenisland.com. Follow Michelle on Twitter @cephira

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