Hawaii Becomes First State To Raise Smoking Age To 21

With a new law that took effect on January 1, Hawaii became the first state to raise the legal smoking age to 21. Not only does the law ban anyone under the age of 21 from buying cigarettes, it also bans them from purchasing electronic cigarettes, which are growing in popularity among the younger generation.

In a press release, the Hawaii State Department of Health explained that 95 percent smokers start smoking before the age of 21 and more than half of them regularly smoke by the age of 18. By raising the smoking age, Hawaii aims to keep young people from developing an unhealthy addiction.

“We are proud to once again be at the forefront of the nation in tobacco prevention and control,” said Director of Health Virginia Pressler, speaking about acts 122 and 19, which were signed by Governor Ige in 2015. “While our comprehensive approach to addressing tobacco use in Hawaii has led to quantifiable decreases in deaths due to smoking, an increase in targeted marketing to our youth and young adults and new technology in the form of e-cigarettes requires our state to take additional measures to protect our young people.”

Act 122 prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing cigarettes or electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), while Act 19 prohibits the use of electronic cigarettes in existing smoke-free locations. According to research, e-cigarettes can expose non-smokers to aerosolized nicotine and other toxic substances.

“Acts 122 and 19 make tobacco products including e-cigarettes less accessible and less attractive to our youth,” said Lola Irvin, Administrator for the Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division. “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.”

According to the Associated Press, reported via MSN, the percentage of Hawaii public high school students “smoking electronic 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.”

Hawaii is the first state to pass the law raising the legal smoking age; however, there have already been hundreds of cities to previously do so, including New York City. Military bases in Hawaii are supporting the decision to raise the smoking age and said everyone on their bases would comply.

“We see it as a fitness and readiness issue,” Bill Doughty, spokesman for the Navy Region Hawaii, said. “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.”

While the new law is aimed at lowering the amount of smokers and keeping young people from starting to smoke, there are many people who have critiqued raising the smoking age, questioning why someone could potentially die for their country but couldn’t smoke a cigarette.

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

“[Smoking is a] way for us to come down after the work day. It’s not like a regular work day. It’s a lot more stressful, especially for people who are in combat jobs,” Taylor Dwyer, also an X-ray technician in the Army, added.

Officials said the first three months of 2016 will be used to educate the public about the new smoking laws, and warnings will be handed out instead of fines. After that, however, those caught breaking the law will be fined $10 for the first offense and $50 or community service for any further offenses. Retailers who sell cigarettes to anyone under 21 will also be faced with fines up to $2,000.

[Photo via Shutterstock]