Snuffed out: Tobacco tax increase proposal dies

  • File photo/Hawaii Tribune-Herald

KAILUA-KONA — There’ll be no increase to the tax on cigarettes and little cigars after a measure that initially sought to increase the cost of a pack of cigarettes by $1 was snuffed out.

Senate Bill 887 failed to secure a final hearing in the House, leaving the bill dead this legislative session. The measure sought to increase the tax on cigarettes and little cigars with intent of reducing smoking and funding with revenues various programs, including cancer research, medical school loan repayment and community health centers.

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The measure, introduced by Sens. Dru Kanuha (D-Kona, Ka‘u) and Kai Kahele (D-Hilo) and two Oahu Democrats, quickly moved through the Senate and its first two hearing in the House before the committees on Health and Consumer Protection and Commerce.

After it was reported from the Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce and referred to the Committee on Finance on March 22, it died.

The bill, as initially proposed, would have raised the tax from 16 cents per unit to 21 cents per unit, an increase of $1 in the price per pack of 20 cigarettes. It would have bumped the total tax on a standard pack of cigarettes to $4.20.

The specific amounts were zeroed out by the House Committee on Health after more information was sought due to concerns that such an increase could create a “robust black market of cigarettes procured online from states with lower cigarette taxes” and the proposed five-cent increase would be the “greatest tax increase since the tax was first introduced.”

“While SB887 stalled in the House Committee on Finance, there was plenty of discussion and positive dialogue showcasing support and a collective desire to move forward SB887,” Kanuha said Monday. “Thus, next session, I plan to work tirelessly with my colleagues in the Senate and across the way in the House of Representatives to pass SB887.”

In other tobacco-related news in the Legislature, lawmakers killed on April 4 a proposal that would have banned flavored electronic smoking devices and e-liquids, saying they suspected teenagers would continue to get the products online even if sales were prohibited.

The committee, however, passed another bill that would raise fines for underage possession of e-cigarettes and raise taxes on e-cigarettes and e-liquids. The measure, Senate Bill 1405, would bring taxes on e-cigarette sales in line with traditional cigarettes. It’s set for a full vote on the House floor today.

Another measure addressing tobacco usage, House Bill 1509, died in its first committee when the House Committee on Health voted to hold the measure.

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Introduced by Rep. Richard Creagan (D-South Kona, portions of North Kona, Ka‘u), the bill would have progressively banned the sale of cigarettes by raising the minimum age to legally purchase the product to 30 years in 2020, 50 in 2021, 50 in 2022, 60 in 2023 and 100 in 2024.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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