Hawaii will become the first state in the nation to ban smoking for people under 21 years of age. Gov. David Ige (D) signed the historic legislation which imposes fines on underage smokers and those who provide them with tobacco products. Hawaii is taking a strict approach to tobacco smoking while other states in the U.S. are loosening the laws surrounding marijuana use.
Hawaii’s lawmakers are alarmed at the growing popularity of e-cigarettes. The battery-powered vaporizers deliver a mist laced with nicotine which is the active drug in tobacco. According to the state’s department of public health, the number of Hawaii high school students who have ever used an e-cigarette tripled between 2011 and 2012. Nationwide, e-cigarettes have become more popular than regular cigarettes among high school students.
Public health advocates are troubled by this growing popularity. Nicotine is highly addictive and may be especially harmful to adolescent brains. Research shows that nearly 90 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they were 18, typically by “bumming” smokes from older friends. Though every state bans cigarette sales to minors, many high school seniors are old enough to legally buy tobacco which they can pass on to their younger classmates.
In theory, increasing the smoking age to 21 will help decrease its use in high school social circles. Fewer teens trying tobacco would mean fewer adults addicted to smoking. The Institute of Medicine estimates that raising the smoking age to 21 would lead to a 12 percent decrease in the smoking rate by the time today’s teens reach adulthood.
Last year, the FDA proposed rules that would ban e-cigarette sales to minors and force companies to attach health warning labels, but those rules have not been implemented yet. The move would begin to place restrictions on the $2 billion e-cigarette industry that for years has operated outside the reach of federal regulators. Ten U.S. states allow children age 17 and under to buy e-cigarettes legally according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In Hawaii, the booming popularity of e-cigarettes has backfired for tobacco companies. If the devices had not been so trendy among high school students, state legislators might not have been motivated to act. But now, in a victory for anti-smoking advocates, Hawaii’s teens will have to wait a few more birthdays before they can legally purchase cigarettes of any kind which include electronic.