HILO — Rep. Richard Creagan wants Hawaii to be the first state to ban the sale of cigarettes.
The Hawaii Island lawmaker said he doesn’t think taxes or regulations are doing enough to stem their use. He wants to see them off store shelves all together.
“It’s slowing it down, but it’s not stopping the problem,” said Creagan, D-South Kona/Ka‘u, regarding current tobacco laws, including the state’s minimum smoking age of 21.
“Basically, we essentially have a group who are heavily addicted — in my view, enslaved by a ridiculously bad industry — which has enslaved them by designing a cigarette that is highly addictive, knowing that it highly lethal. And, it is.”
His bill, HB 1509, seeks to halt the sale of cigarettes by increasing the minimum age to 30 in 2020, 40 in 2021, 50 in 2022, 60 in 2023, and 100 in 2024.
The bill does not apply to electronic smoking devices or cigars, which Creagan, a physician, sees as safer alternatives. Chewing tobacco also is left out.
He said the bill is structured the way it is to help it pass legal muster.
The lawmaker said he doesn’t think the state would be over-reaching.
“The state is obliged to protect the public’s health,” said Creagan, who acknowledged he smoked cigarettes during his medical residency to help him stay awake during long shifts. He also picked tobacco as a teenager as a summer job.
“We don’t allow people free access to opioids, for instance, or any prescription drugs,” Creagan said.
“This is more lethal, more dangerous than any prescription drug, and it is more addicting. In my view, you are taking people who are enslaved from a horrific addiction, and freeing people from horrific enslavement. We, as legislators, have a duty to do things to save people’s lives. If we don’t ban cigarettes, we are killing people.”
Creagan supports legalization of marijuana because he said it’s not as addictive nor as dangerous to a person’s health.
The bill, which has two other sponsors, is expected to be heard this week by the House Health Committee.
He’s not the only Hawaii Island lawmaker seeking to clamp down on tobacco use.
Sen. Dru Kanuha, D-Kona/Ka’u, introduced SB 887, which would increase the excise tax on cigarettes to 21 cents, instead of 16 cents, in July. It mandates revenue be used for health programs and research.
As a Hawaii County Council member, Kanuha introduced a bill increasing the county’s minimum age to buy tobacco to 21, ahead of the rest of the state. The bill was enacted in 2014.