Bill raising smoking age to 25 dies in House

  • Richard Creagan

  • Cigarette butts in an ashtray in New York. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

A bill to increase the minimum age to purchase tobacco and electronic smoking devices has been snuffed out — but the proposal’s introducer remains hopeful it will move this year.

House Bill 2507, co-introduced by Rep. Richard Creagan (D-Kona, Ka‘u) and Rep. John Mizuno, an Oahu Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Health, proposed the state make it illegal for anyone younger than age 25 to buy the product.


After being unanimously passed by the House Committee on Health on Feb. 4, the measure passed a full reading on the House floor but didn’t secure required hearings before the committees on Judiciary and Finance. The bill is now dead, having missed the critical “first lateral” deadline Feb. 14 in which bills with multiple referrals needed to move to their final committee.

But, it’s not the end of the proposal this session, the measure’s co-introducer said.

“I think it’s going to go forward, in just a new format,” said Creagan.

He was surprised, however, that the bill died, particularly with support from Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke, an Oahu Democrat.

“I’m not sure exactly what Chair(woman) Luke has in mind, but it’s probably some type of gut and replace,” Creagan said, explaining that the maneuver, which involves stripping a bill of its original content and replacing it with new legislation, was used in 2016 when the age was increased to age 21.

Attempts to reach Luke over a several-day period were unsuccessful as of press-time Friday.

“It’s not over ‘til it’s over — a lot of things could change in conference committee,” Creagan said, referencing the latter part of the legislative session. “The only thing you can’t change in a bill is the title — everything else you can change. It’s not evil, it’s just a tactic that’s part of our laws of rules and culture here. Sometimes, a little indirect path is more effective than the direct path.”

In calling for the increase in age, the proposal cited the harmful effect of nicotine on developing brains, particularly youth and young adults and unborn children, as well as a study by the Institute of Medicine that found raising the minimum purchase age led to decreases in smoking prevalence and mortality.

The bill also proposed creating a system of fines with a first offense costing $500, which both the state Department of Health and American Cancer Society took issue with during its first and only committee hearing.

Input on the measure came in from nearly two dozen individuals, groups and organizations. Opposition and support was about evenly split among the testifiers.

The bill was introduced nearly four years after the Aloha State banned the sale of such items to those under 21, expanding statewide a law passed in 2014 by the Hawaii County Council.

Since Hawaii upped its minimum purchase age from 18 to 21 in 2016, other locales and states have increased their minimum ages as well. Prior to President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, 2019, signing the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act making it illegal across the United States for a retailer to sell any tobacco product – including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes — to anyone under 21, 16 states and the District of Columbia had “tobacco 21” laws.

A federal ban on flavored vape cartridges or pre-filled pod devises and products went into effect Feb. 6. The ban covers fruity and sweet flavors, but doesn’t include tobacco and menthol flavors. It also will not allow the prohibited products back on the market until cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, a process that could take months or years.

House Bill 2347, which bans the sale of flavored tobacco products in Hawaii, excluding tobacco and menthol flavors, was passed by its first two committees this session, but it has yet to secure a hearing before the Committee on Finance.

A companion bill in the Senate, SB 2903, passed its first hearing before a joint committee on Consumer Protection and Health and Judiciary. The Committee on Ways and Means passed the bill on Wednesday with amendments, which were not available on Friday as of presstime.

Meanwhile, House Bill 2348, which would create penalties for retailers who sell electronic smoking devices and tobacco to persons under 21, needs to secure a hearing before the Committee on Finance to stay alive. A companion bill in the Senate, SB 2904, also needs a hearing before a joint committee on Judiciary and Ways and Means.

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