LIHUE — The Kauai County Council on Wednesday voted against a proposed resolution urging state lawmakers to give counties the authority to regulate tobacco products.
Prior to 2018, when the state Legislature passed an act preempting existing local tobacco ordinances, each county had its own set of regulations controlling the sale and use of cigarettes and other smoking devices, some of which were more stringent than state laws, according to a resolution introduced by Councilmember Felicia Cowden.
The resolution was deferred and later killed in a split vote during this week’s regularly scheduled council meeting, despite a visit from Valerie Saiki, a coordinator with the Hawaii Public Health Institute, who described some of the ways stricter local tobacco laws could help combat Kauai’s growing underage vaping problem.
A 2017 study by the Hawaii Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that nearly a third of Kauai youths use an electronic vapor smoking device. Regular cigarettes remain a problem as well. According to the survey, nearly 12% of young people on Kauai smoked during the month-long study period, a rate higher than any other island in the state.
“There are currently over 15, 500 vaping flavors on the market targeting children, with labels that attract and pique the interest of the kids,” Saiki told the council. “If the county has the authority we could maybe stop certain products and labels from being sold.”
There was testimony from a father and daughter, Tom and Rebecca Lindsey, who spoke on behalf of the resolution based on their personal experiences.
“Kids in New York would do anything to get someone to buy the vaping products,” Rebecca Lindsey said, describing what she saw on a recent trip to the mainland.
Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro voted against the proposal, pointing out that a similar bill is already in the Hawaii State Association of Counties’ package to the state Legislature. Vice Chair Ross Kagawa was not present at the meeting but opposed the resolution for the same reason in a letter, saying, “I believe the county should focus on county core issues.”
Councilmember KipuKai Kuali‘i did not support the resolution in its current form but said he would be in favor of lobbying the Legislature to pass stricter laws regulating the sale, labeling and marketing of tobacco products and e-cigarettes.
“I am fully supportive of advocating for state laws that address the sale of candy-flavored tobacco products, menthol cigarettes and electronic cigarettes that especially attract kids,” he said.
Councilmember Mason Chock initially supported the resolution but said he changed his vote after it became apparent that the proposal would not pass.
“We looked at it again, and all agreed to take it off the book before the end of the year,” he said. “That is why I changed my vote to no. It is just a clerical protocol.”
Cowden called for action from state officials and lawmakers in her closing remarks.
“The state needs to step up to the responsibility of protecting our youth since they have now taken action in 2018 to limit the county’s ability,” she said. “The message will still be heard.”
Stephanie Shinno, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.