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Hawaii 2021 Legislative Update

A recent article in the Honolulu Start Advertiser highlighted the need for the work we are doing at the Hawaii State Capitol and how legislation aimed at curbing the youth vaping crisis is needed now more then ever. According to new Youth Risk Behavior Survey data reported by the State Department of Health a whopping 30.6% of public high school students in Hawaii in 2019 admitted to using a vape device in the last 30 days that is up from 25.5% in 2017. You can read the entire article here.

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The first deadline of the legislative session was last week, that means if a bill assigned to be heard by three or more committees wasn’t heard in its first committee assignment by then it is dead for the session. We want to give you an update on some of the tobacco/vaping related bills.

SB 1147, SD1 – this bill started as a comprehensive flavor restriction bill, all flavors all products, but frustratingly menthol was removed from the bill. Senator Baker the sponsor of the bill strongly opposed the removal but the amendment was approved. Moving forward we will try and get menthol added back into the bill but if not, we can not support it. Research shows that if you leave any flavor on the market the industry will capitalize on the loophole and use its marketing to entice kids to use the remaining flavored products available (which could be traditional, menthol-flavored cigarettes).

HB 598, SD1 - would establish retail licensing for stand alone vape retailers. Currently traditional tobacco retailers must be licensed, which helps the state ensure that products aren’t being sold to kids, but vape shops are not. Research tells us that retail licensing is a crucial part of enforcing the tobacco sales age law. The bill also would establish the offense ban the shipment of tobacco products to Hawaii except to licensed retailers or wholesalers. In its original form the bill would have also added e-cigarettes within the definition of tobacco products which would have resulted in tax parity between e-cigarettes and other tobacco products, but unfortunately that portion of the bill was deleted after its first committee hearing.

HB 476, HD1 – would tax e-cigarettes at a rate of 50% of wholesale price. The American Heart Association recommends that e-cigarettes be taxed at 70% of wholesale price to create parity with the tax on other tobacco products and to make them less attractive and attainable by underage users. Currently e-cigarettes/vape are not taxed the same way that traditional tobacco products are. Amendments made to the bill also create definitions of e-cigarettes favored by the e-cigarette industry which would exempt some e-cigarette products from the tax.

HB 1296 - would dismantle the Hawaii Tobacco Prevention and Control Trust Fund and require any future tobacco prevention, control or cessation programs to go to the legislature annually to request funding. We strongly oppose this legislation.

HB 826, HD1—would add illegal sales to minors enforcement requirements to the State Attorney General’s office, which would be a different enforcement model than that used currently by the state to successfully reduce cigarette sales to minors. The bill also proposed to increase fines to underage users of tobacco products, something the American Heart Association strongly opposes. Youth penalties are a tobacco industry ploy to steer responsibility away from its marketing and sales practices targeting youths, and onto the victims, the youths who fall prey to industry marketing. Research has shown youth penalties to be ineffective, and potentially  counter-productive to efforts to reduce youth tobacco consumption. Enforcement of youth penalties are also often disparately focused on people of color which adds to structural racism that increases heath and other disparities in our communities.

It has been a challenging session so far, but we won’t give up efforts to ensure strong tobacco and e-cigarette regulations are passed to address Hawaii’s youth vaping crisis. Thank you for your support and please keep an eye out for future emails from us.

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