Advocates expect Hawaii’s new smoking law will help children to grow up tobacco-free

How will the new smoking law that raises the legal smoking age to 21 affect our state? Advocates expect it will help Hawaii’s children grow up tobacco-free.

Governor David Ige on Friday signed a bill to make this state the first to raise the legal smoking age to 21. The measure aims to prevent adolescents from smoking, buying or possessing both traditional and electronic cigarettes.

Dozens of local governments have similar bans, including Hawaii County and New York City. “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 will grow up tobacco-free,” said Governor Ige, using the Hawaiian word for children.

In Hawaii, 86 percent of adult smokers began smoking before age 21, according to the governor’s office. Lila Johnson, Tobacco Prevention & Education Program Manager at the state Department of Health, says it will have a tremendous impact.

Opponents say it’s unfair that a veteran returning from military service who risked his or her life serving the country could be prevented from lighting up. Those caught breaking the rules would be fined $10 for the first offense, and later violations would lead to a $50 fine or mandatory community service.

The bill goes into effect on the first day of 2016. Until then, the state Department of Health will reach out to retailers and post signs to educate the public about the law. According to the state Department of Health, 5,600 kids in Hawaii try smoking every year. Meanwhile, 1,400 people die from tobacco use or exposure in Hawaii every year, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Ige signed another anti-smoking measure Friday to make Hawaii’s state parks and beaches smoke-free.

Valerie Smalley, Quit Coach Supervisor at Hawaii Tobacco Quitline, says the service can help smokers break the habit – whether or not they’re impacted by the law or not.

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