Hawaii’s Governor David Ige has signed a bill to make his state the first in the country to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21, effective the first day of 2016.
The measure aims to prevent anyone under 21 from smoking, buying or possessing both traditional and electronic cigarettes. Gov. David Ige signed it into law Friday, according to Hawaii News Now.
At a bill signing ceremony in his State Capitol office, Ige said:
“Taking this step forward to prohibit anyone under the age of 21 of smoking, purchasing, possessing, is another step to reduce the impact that smoking has on our community.
Raising the minimum age as part of our comprehensive tobacco control efforts will help reduce tobacco use among our youth and increase the likelihood that our keiki [Hawaiian word for children] will grow up tobacco-free.”
There will be no grandfather clause so an 18-year-old who can smoke legally now will not be able to do so legally as of January 1, when the law takes effect.
A proposal to raise the smoking age to 21 is working its way through the California legislature, so California is set to be the second state to increase the smoking age as high as Hawaii.
There are 4 states that have already raised the smoking age to 19: Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah.
Those caught smoking would be fined $10 for the first offense, and later violations would lead to a $50 fine or mandatory community service.
Those who provide smoking devices to people under 21 would get harsher punishments — a $500 fine at first, and a $500 to $2,000 fine thereafter.
In Hawaii, 86% of adult smokers began smoking before age 21, according to the governor’s office.
Some believe that the ban might actually help to prevent smokers from starting at a young age.
Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University said:
“It’s important to understand that virtually no one who smokes starts smoking after the age of 21. If you’re going to smoke, you start when you’re an adolescent. Almost nobody takes it up for the first time as an adult.”
While adolescents are already a few years under the current legal smoking age of 18, he said they have access to cigarettes because 18-year-olds attend high school with them.
“If you raise the age to 21, that’s not going to happen so easily,” he said. “There aren’t that many 21-year-olds that hang around with 14-, 15-year-olds.”
But opponents say that learning about the dangers of smoking is what would help, not more laws.
They insist that many 18-year-olds that are still smoking now will continue to find ways to get a cigarette since they won’t all be able to quit their addiction before the beginning of next year.
Opponents also argue that since the law prohibits e-cigs as well, that can hurt people who are trying to curb their addiction with the better alternative.
Reggie Dela Cruz, an e-cigarette user who works at the E-Cig City store in the neighborhood of Kalihi in Honolulu, said that e-cigs being included in the prohibition for smokers under 21 is “just ridiculous.”
Dela Cruz said e-cigs are better for young people than cigarettes and that he knows many former smokers that are switching to vaping for a “healthier choice.”
E-cigs are cleaner yet most still deliver the addictive drug nicotine, although some cigarettes can offer it in lower amounts all the way down to nothing, which may be able to help to curb addiction. Their true effects have not been fully studied, however.
Dela Cruz expects a huge drop in business when the law takes effect early next year since the majority of the store’s e-cigarette customers are between 18 and 21 years old.
Ige signed another anti-smoking measure Friday to make Hawaii’s state parks and beaches smoke-free.