On January 1 of this year, Hawaii became the first American state to raise the legal age to smoke from 18 to 21. This new law includes electronic, or “e-cigarettes,” (which are increasing in popularity) as well as traditional rolled tobacco forms.
The decision was made after the state’s Department of Health released a statement outlining the statistics of youth smoking habits. A recent study revealed that in the U.S., 95 percent of adult smokers take up the unhealthy habit before 21. Meanwhile, nearly half the number of adult smokers in the U.S. become regular smokers before they reach their early twenties, and 25 percent of regular smokers became so between the ages of 18 and 21.
Officials decided to also include e-cigarettes within the law after noticing the spike in e-cigarette usage among high school students in Hawaii, which has reportedly quadrupled in percentage over a course of four years. In 2015, 22 percent of high school students indulging in e-cigarettes, as well as an unfortunate 12 percent of junior high students.
Public health officials are crossing their fingers in hopes that by making access to traditional and e-cigarettes more difficult for young people, they will become less likely to become addicted and develop a potentially deadly habit.
“In Hawaii, about one in four students in high school try their first cigarette each year, and one in three who get hooked will die prematurely,” said Lola Irvin, who works as an administrator with the chronic disease prevention and health promotion division of the Hawaii Department of Health.
The law will not come into effect until April of this year, but afterwards, those caught smoking under the legal age will be fined $10 for the first offense and $50 or community service for the second. Police will also be heavily cracking down on retailers caught selling tobacco products to underage smokers; $500 for the first offense and up to $2000 for later offenses.
The first three months of 2016 leading up to implementation of the new law by the police will consist of educating the public, so warnings will be handed out to those those caught as opposed to fines.
While I myself am not a regular smoker and above the proposed smoking age, I still find myself feeling rather weary of Hawaii’s new law, as well-intentioned as it may be. The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21 and one can see how easy it still is for those underage to gain access to alcohol, so one can assume that we will see the same results with tobacco products. Only time will tell though…