Raising the smoking age to 21 has been a matter of discussion and debate for years. On Friday, Hawaii became the first of the United States to officially make it law. Once in effect, the fine will be $10 for the first offense. The second time the same person is caught lighting up, the fine goes up to a $50 fine for that and every offense after. Store owners will face a $500 penalty if caught selling to a person under the age limit.
The comprehensive new law prevents individuals who are under 21 from purchasing tobacco products including electronic cigarettes. Statistically, most smokers pick up the habit before the age of 21. Of those, about half are smoking daily before turning 18, the Hawaii State Department of Health announced in a press release.
While smoking has decreased considerably in Hawaii, the use of e-cigarettes is rising. As of 2015, about 22% of state’s students have tried e-cigarettes at least once, compared with only 5% in 2011.
The Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division‘s Administrator, Lola Irvin, stated the law is an attempt to reverse the trend by making e-cigarettes less attractive and less accessible. Officials cited a University of Hawaii study that found e-cigarette usage among Hawaiian teens is nearly triple the national average. “Prevention is the best strategy, and high school students are especially vulnerable to nicotine addiction,” Irvin said in the release. “By limiting their use in public places, the new laws encourage a non-smoking norm,” she also added.
Smoking age for those in Hawaii Rises
The U.S. Army, followed by the Department of the Navy and the Marine Corps have also announced their support of Hawaii’s new smoking age law. This drew criticism from some, claiming that a person who old enough to die for their country should also be able to decide for themselves whether to smoke. “If you can serve your country, you should be able to have a drink and a cigarette,” stated 22-year-old Justin Warren. Warren is an X-ray technician in the Army. Rear Admiral John Fuller, Commander of Navy Region Hawaii, countered with his own rebuttal to Warren’s statement says. “If someone is young enough to fight for their country, they should be free from addiction to a harmful drug.”
Sabrina Olaes is an 18-year-old student and local activist against the use of tobacco. She said she started planning events to educate her classmates about the risks of smoking after finding herself suffocated by second-hand fumes from electronic cigarettes in her school’s bathroom. She called the tobacco industry’s advertising deceptive. And said some of the flavors of electronic cigarettes are specifically designed to target young people. She found, however, that her smoking friends didn’t always want to hear what she had to say.
While Hawaii is the first state to increase the smoking age to 21, more than 80 US cities including Boston. New York City has already made the move to prohibit the use of tobacco-related products by young adults.
In 2005, the city of Needham, Massachusetts, raised the smoking age to 21. A decade later the number of adults smoking rate was 50% lower than that of the rest of the state.