Guest Blogger: Don Weisman, Hawaii Government Relations Director
As of April 1, Hawaii Senate Bill 1030, which proposes to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21, has passed through the required House and Senate committees. The next steps pending approval on the House floor, will be to move to a conference committee where House and Senate members will work out differences in their respective versions of the bill.
Tobacco to 21, as the issue is often referred, has taken on greater focus since a March 14 report issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that it could join higher tobacco taxes, comprehensive smoke-free air laws, and adequately funded community tobacco prevention, control and cessation programs as the cornerstones of effective reduction of tobacco addiction and use among minors. The IOM strongly concluded that boosting the tobacco sale age to 21 will have a substantial positive impact on public health and save lives. It found that raising the tobacco sale age will significantly reduce the number of adolescents and young adults who start smoking; reduce smoking-caused deaths; and immediately improve the health of adolescents, young adults and young mothers who would be deterred from smoking, as well as their children. Significantly, the greatest impact would be among adolescents 15-17 who would no longer be able to pass for legal age and would have a harder time obtaining cigarettes from their older friends and classmates.
Overall, the report predicts that raising the minimum age for the sale of tobacco products to 21 will, over time, reduce the smoking rate by about 12 percent and smoking-related deaths by 10 percent.
The American Heart Association is supporting the Hawaii state legislation. National data shows that 95 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21. The ages of 18 to 21 are a critical period when many smokers move from experimental smoking to regular, daily use. While half of adult smokers become daily smokers before 18, four out of five do so before they turn 21. Increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 will help prevent these young people from ever starting to smoke. If passed, Hawaii would join at least 58 localities in 7 states – including Hawaii County and New York City – that have already raised the tobacco sale age to 21. California, Washington and New Jersey state legislatures are also currently considering similar bills.