Hawaii’s Legal Smoking Age Increases To 21 Starting Today, New Law Will Penalize Retailers And Underage Smokers

Hawaii’s legal smoking age is now 21 for traditional as well as electronic cigarettes. Considered by many as being the healthiest state in the U.S., Hawaii is the first in the country to enact such legislation.

The idea behind the law, signed by Governor David Ige in June, is to make it more cumbersome for young adults to pick up a cigarette and potentially develop a smoking habit. Public health officials say the ban will lead to longer, healthier lives.

“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,” said Lola Irvin, an administrator with the chronic disease prevention and health promotion division of the Hawaii Department of Health.

CBS News reports that the Hawaii smoking age law includes electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, as well.

According to health authorities, e-cigarettes were included in the rule as an increasing number of high school and middle school students are experimenting with the smoking devices. The number of e-cigs used by high school students increased to 22 percent in 2015, while an estimated 12 percent of middle school children smoke them.

E-cigs are included in Hawaii's new smoking legislation.
The Hawaii smoking ban for adults younger than 21 also includes e-cigarettes. [Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

Military bases throughout Hawaii are expected to follow the new regulation as well. In order to serve their country to the best of their ability, military commanders believe service men and women must steer clear of any addiction to a potentially dangerous drug.

Bill Doughty, the spokesman for the Navy Region Hawaii, agrees with the higher Hawaii smoking age.

“We see it as a fitness and readiness issue. When we can prevent sailors from smoking or using tobacco, if we can get them to quit, then that improves their fitness and readiness, and it saves them a ton of money too.”

However, some say it is simply not fair. Opponents of the law say that if a person is old enough to die defending the country, they have reached an age where they can make their own decision about smoking.

“If you can serve the country, you should be able to have a drink and a cigarette,” said Justin Warren, 22, an X-ray technician in the Army.

As the Hawaii legal smoking age increase goes into effect today, the state will spend the next three months educating young people about the law. Any person under 21 caught smoking will be given a warning, not a fine.

After the 90 day grace period, young adults found violating the law will have to pay a $10 fine for the first offense, then $50 or community service for additional offenses. If a retailer sells to someone under 21, they will be hit with a $500 fine the first time, then $2,000 for repeated violations.

Representatives from the tourism industry are concerned that many visitors will not be aware of the increased smoking age. Hawaii Health Department officials have been busy meeting with many tourism-related businesses to help find solutions to educating tourists.

Lila Johnson, a public health educator with the Health Department, said 4,000 signs written in various languages will be distributed throughout the state to help raise awareness of the state’s minimum smoking age. Plus, hotels and restaurants plan to participate in the visitor education process.

Hawaii is trying to prevent young adults from starting a cigarette addiction.
Hawaii hopes the new smoking age rule will help decrease the number of young people who pick up the habit. [Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images]

Hawaii officials hope other states will follow their lead and an increased smoking age will become a nationwide law. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, Massachusetts wants a similar law.

Although only Hawaii has increased its legal smoking age statewide, over 100 cities and counties throughout the nation have backed similar legislation. Both Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas, have laws on the books that prohibit buying cigarettes by young adults. In 2005, Needham, Massachusetts, passed a citywide ordinance raising the legal smoking age to 21.

Health authorities say that 95 percent of adult smokers start during their teenage years. By raising the legal smoking age to 21, Hawaii believes this is the best strategy to prevent young adults from picking up the need to smoke in the first place.

[Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images]