Hawaii raises legal smoking age to 21


Caroline Foley, Staff Writer

Hawaii has officially become the first state in the US to raise the legal minimum smoking age to 21.  The new law, passed on January 1, 2016, bans any person under the designated age from purchasing both traditional and electronic cigarettes in an effort to suppress teenage smoking.

According to CBS News, public health officials’ primary aim is to make it more difficult for young people to acquire tobacco products, and in turn reduce the number of people with unhealthy addictions.  “In Hawaii, about one in four students in high school try their first cigarette each year, and one in three who get hooked will die prematurely,” Lola Irvin, administrator with the chronic disease prevention and health promotion division of the Hawaii Department of Health, told CBS News.

After noticing a large spike in usage among kids and teenagers, lawmakers decided to include electronic cigarettes in the proposal as well.  The Hawaii Department of Health reported that the “percentage of Hawaii public high school students smoking e-cigarettes quadrupled over four years to 22 percent in 2015, and among middle-schoolers, 12 percent reported using them in 2015, a sixfold increase over four years.”

As the new law comes into effect, warnings will be distributed instead of fines during the first three months while the public is still being educated, officials told CBS News.  After the three month introductory period, young people caught smoking “will be fined $10 for the first offense and $50 or community service for any further offenses.  Retailers caught selling cigarettes to people under 21 can be fined $500 for the first offense and up to $2,000 for later offenses.”

While Hawaii is the first state to raise the legal smoking age, similar laws have been implemented in cities and counties across the country, the most well-known being New York City.  Increasing the smoking age has also proved to be effective; according to CBS News, the town of Needham, Massachusetts, raised the smoking age to 21 in 2005, and a decade later the percentage of adults smoking was 50 percent lower than the rest of the state.

To summarize the main idea of the law, Irvin stated, “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.”

The timing for the introduction of the new law was not coincidental.  Lawmakers implemented the law on the first day of the new year with the hopes of coinciding with many peoples’ resolutions to improve their health.