Could Hawaii Effectively Ban the Sale of Cigarettes?

A lawmaker in Hawaii has proposed a bill that would raise the legal age to purchase cigarettes to 100 years old.

According to its description, House Bill 1509 “Progressively bans the sale of cigarettes by raising the minimum age of persons to whom cigarettes may be legally sold to 30 years of age in 2020, 40 years of age in 2021, 50 years of age in 2022, 60 years of age in 2023, and then 100 years of age in 2024.”

Democratic Rep. Richard Creagan said that current laws, which bar consumers under 21 from purchasing cigarettes, are helpful but not enough.

“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,” said Creagan, according to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

Creagan, a physician, said the state has a duty “to protect the public’s health.”

The bill’s opening line calls cigarettes “the deadliest artifact in human history” that “kill[s] half of its long-term users.”

HB1509 does not ban electronic cigarettes, cigars, or chewing tobacco.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking is the nation’s leading cause of preventable disease and death, claiming 480,000 lives each year—about 1 in 5 deaths. The CDC estimates that 37.8 million adults in the United States are current smokers. While current smoking saw a decline from 2005 (20.9%) to 2016 (15.5%), smoking prevalence did not largely change during 2015–2016.

The proposed bill would gradually increase the age to account for the state’s lost revenue: “The legislature also finds that the State is suffering from its own addiction to cigarettes in the form of the large sums of money that the State receives from state cigarette sales taxes, with the tax revenues recently reaching more than $100,000,000 per year.”

Still, the CDC estimates that tobacco also costs the nation a significant amount of money, to the tune of about $300 billion a year: the U.S. loses nearly $170 billion each year in direct medical care, and over $156 billion worth of lost productivity as a result of premature death and secondhand smoke exposure.

“This is more lethal, more dangerous than any prescription drug, and it is more addicting,” said Creagan. “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.”

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Sources: Hawaii Tribune Herald, CDC