HONOLULU — A bill that will disassemble the state’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Trust Fund has passed through the Hawaii State Senate and is now headed back to the House of Representatives.
The bill, HB1296, would credit an estimated $50 million to the state’s general fund on June 30, 2025, and though the bill would dissipate the fund, the bill is intended to help balance the state budget by pulling funding for the prevention tobacco programs through the Department of Health
Senator Donovan Dela Cruz of District 22 said the Senate included $7.3 million for fiscal year 2022 and the same amount for the fiscal year 2023 to continue tobacco prevention programs, which are funded by the trust fund. In a speech urging the passage of HB 1296, Dela Cruz said the programs could be more strategically funded.
The Hawai‘i Senate passed the bill last week with seven votes in favor, with reservations and four votes against the bill.
Senator Karl Rhoads of District 13 voted no on the bill and said smokers are more susceptible to serious complications from COVID-19, and that the programs should remain funded as they are.
“Tobacco industry executives don’t care whether their customers live or die,” Rhoads said.
Rhoads said the tobacco industry spent $9 billion in 2018 on advertising and over 20 million on lobbying in 2019 to ensure that more people will start smoking, thousands of whom will eventually die from the habit.
Coalition for Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i’s Community Coordinator for Tobacco-Free Kaua‘i’s Valerie Saiki echoed Rhoads and said keeping the tobacco trust fund for prevention and cessation programs will save the state more money in the long run: ensuring decades of progress are not undone while protecting youth from the threat of e-cigarettes and a lifetime of nicotine addiction.
“We look forward to seeing lawmakers examine other options to raise revenue such as taxing electronic smoking devices,” Saiki said. “Repealing the tobacco prevention and control trust fund is handing the tobacco industry a victory.”
Saiki said she appreciates the seven senators that voted “ayes with reservations.”
Four nonprofits, Hawai‘i Public Health, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids changing the funding mechanism for tobacco prevention and control will be less efficient and cost taxpayers more.
According to Hawai‘i Public Health, in 1998, Hawai‘i and 45 other states sued tobacco companies and settled, resulting in the Master Settlement Agreement. The MSA included payments to the settling states that may be used to cover current and future costs of treating tobacco-related illnesses.
The Tobacco Prevention and Control Trust Fund is currently administered by the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, provided important tobacco prevention and cession services statewide.
About 12.5% of the Hawai’i Tobacco Prevention and Control Trust Fund were allocated to programs that reduce cigarette smoking and tobacco use among youth and adults through prevention and education.
This article has been updated on April 15 at 9:31 a.m. for accuracy.