LIHU‘E — The message brought to the streets Sunday was clear — amend state Senate Bill 1147 to add menthol to the list of banned tobacco flavors.
The bill among other provisions would make unlawful the sale of flavored tobacco products, but does not inlcude menthol among the flavors.
The Kaua‘i students joined a statewide effort against tobacco during the “March Against Menthol” on Rice Street fronting the Historic County Building.
The sign-waving called attention to SB1147 and how menthol was eliminated from the flavor list for tobacco. It also marked the launch of a month of events against tobacco.
“The tobacco industry has a history of marketing menthol cigarettes to youth and vulnerable groups,” said Nikkya Taliaferro, one of the organizers of the Hawai‘i for Black Lives movement. “In Hawai‘i, 78% of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander smokers use menthol cigarettes. Lawmakers should not miss this opportunity to completely tackle this tobacco epidemic, addressing social justice and improving health simultaneously.”
Menthol tobacco products have been shown to be a gateway tobacco product for women, minorities and youth, states a release from the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i. Menthol’s unique qualities make it easier for new smokers to start smoking, are more addictive and thus harder to quit.
“Menthol covers the harsh taste of tobacco,” said Holly Taguma, Kaua‘i’s representative to the CTFH Youth Council, a program of the Hawai‘i Public Health Institute.
“As I’ve seen at my school, flavored tobacco draws the youth in and gets them hooked for life. Do you realize that 64% of high-school students that vape use menthol? We must keep our peers safe. Menthol is still a flavor and should be included in any bill to end the sale of flavored tobacco.”
Hawai‘i’s menthol prevalence is a direct result of the tobacco industry deeming the state a “menthol market,” and following a pattern of targeting communities of color, states the CTFH. Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Hawai‘i, and the state’s rates of middle- and high-school e-cigarette use are among the highest in the nation.
Valerie Saiki of the Kaua‘i CTFH said there are some 15,000 tobacco flavors, including menthol that was thrown out in the creation of SB1147.
“The lawmakers who worked on this are not smokers,” Saiki said. “They aren’t aware that menthol is a flavor and needs to be added to the list of flavors contained in SB1147.”
The bill was approved by various Senate committees last week.
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.