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Tobacco bill moves ahead

A bill that would prohibit selling tobacco products to people 18 to 21 years old got a unanimous, positive nod from the Hawaii County Council’s Public Safety and Mass Transit Committee on Tuesday.

Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha introduced the bill.

“My commitment is to help our young people live longer, healthier lives,” Kanuha said, after listening to about half a dozen Big Island students talk about the dangers of smoking. “Healthy people make healthy communities.”

Not every testifier was on board with the changes.

“As much as I detest smoking, I do not want to impose my personal feelings on anyone who does smoke,” Ka‘u resident Mike Last said. “While I will not be impacted by this, I feel very strongly that this is the wrong course to follow. I believe to arbitrarily raise the age to purchase impacts a group who the county council thinks cannot think for themselves. If at 18 someone isn’t mature enough to decide to smoke, how can they at that same age decide to vote?”

Further, Last said, 18-year-olds are old enough to join the military and die in war.

Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter said comparing military service and the ability to buy tobacco was comparing apples and oranges.

“It’s not right to compare going to war to addiction,” Poindexter said. “That’s crazy. It’s also not right to say that it’s none of my business and I should mind my own business. I’m a concerned grandmother. I’m a concerned citizen. I care about our community and our youth.”

But Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who eventually voted in favor of the measure, said she could see Last’s point. Wille said her mother died of leukemiabrought on by smoking, and Wille became a smoker three times because of peer pressure. Despite her misgivings about some portions of the bill, Wille said she would support a measure that goes even further, outlawing smoking in all public places.

The council, several years ago, enacted a ban on smoking at county beach parks, Chairman J Yoshimoto said. At the time, that ban was fairly controversial, he said. In comparison, Kanuha’s proposed bill was less so.

“It’s to protect the public health and welfare of our people, from children to senior citizens,” Yoshimoto said. “While at its face it can infringe on someone’s rights … it’s our responsibility to make sure we provide them with enough structure that allows them to make the right decisions. It’s basically saying that we are providing that structure, similar to how we do with seat belts or car seats, mobile devices in cars.”

Prosecutor Mitch Roth noted that critics of the beach smoking ban often point out the low number of prosecutions under that law.

Roth said he doesn’t measure that ban’s success by the number of citations, though.

“If you look at the beaches today, there’s a whole lot less cigarettes on the beaches,” he said. “You change the attitude of people. While we haven’t prosecuted a lot of cases, it has been successful.”

The bill will be sent to the council for two more votes before becoming law.

The Finance Committee approved adding $3.5 million to the county’s budget from the general obligation bonds, capital projects fund balance or other sources for the Nani Kailua Drive extension project.

Kanuha, who introduced the measure, said the project will eventually add a new mauka-makai connector to help traffic evacuate Alii Drive in the case of an emergency.

Another Kanuha measure, a resolution asking the Planning Department to name the Mamalahoa bypass road Alii Drive, also got unanimous approval Tuesday.

“With Alii Drive, it continues with the theme of the royal places of Kona, North and South Kona,” Kanuha said.

He named several important royal complexes and areas along Alii Drive, including Kamakahonu and the Keakealani Wahine complex, as well as Keauhou and Kahaluu.

Kupuna from the region supported the idea, he added.