LIHUE — If Valerie Saiki of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii had her way, there would be no smokers.
“We’re flying to Oahu Wednesday for a National Kick Butts Day youth rally,” Saiki said. “Do you realize that 1,200 people die each day from tobacco-related diseases? That’s the theme this year — 1,200 people each day, every day.”
Among the issues being addressed during National Kick Butts Day, Saiki said there is support for legislative action raising the minimum age of purchasing tobacco to 21 years old.
A report issued by the Institute of Medicine in Honolulu concluded that increasing the age of sale for tobacco products to 21 will have a substantial positive impact on public health. The report predicts that raising the minimum age for the sale of tobacco products to 21 will, over time, reduce the smoking rate by about 123 percent, and smoking-related deaths by 10 percent.
“There is a bill in the Legislature aiming to raise the age of buying tobacco to 21,” Saiki said. “That is just one of several tobacco-related bills we’re supporting. I had some students working on a project relating to this legislation and had several parents calling to verify the legislation. A lot of parents don’t want their children to smoke.”
Jessica Yamauchi, executive director for the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii, said Hawaii County, along with cities and counties in seven states, have passed legislation to raise the age of sale of tobacco to 21 years old.
“Hawaii has the opportunity to be the first state to pass groundbreaking legislation which will protect our youth and help create a tobacco-free generation,” Yamauchi said in the release.
National data shows that 95 percent of adult smokers started smoking before they turned 21 years old. The ages of 18 to 21 are a critical period when many smokers move from experimenting with smoking to becoming regular, daily users.
Saiki said raising the age is one of the areas being targeted by the National Kick Butts Day event, which will take at the Kukui Grove Center from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Friday in the food court area. People can earn a water flask, T-shirts, backpacks and other premiums.
“We’re also asking people not to be a replacement smoker,” Saiki said. “According to tobacco industry documents, they aggressively market their products and seek ‘replacement smokers’ — especially teens.”
She said one of the legislative bills the coalition is not supporting is one which lowers the tobacco tax on electronic smoking.
“I was in the schools last week, and it appears the number of young people smoking is less,” Saiki said. “This is not the case with electronic smoking where there is less education.”
She said some of the other bills related to smoking supported by the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii include one creating smoke-free parks, and making electronic cigarettes a part of the tobacco law.