“Raising the minimum age as part of our comprehensive tobacco control efforts will help reduce tobacco use among our youth and increase the likelihood that our keiki (children) will grow up to be tobacco-free,” Governor David Ige said in a statement. The bill was signed by the governor this Friday, making Hawai the first state in the U.S. with a ban on underage smoking.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths annually (or one of every five deaths overall). It remains the leading cause of preventable death, and steps like placing an age limit on smoking can help control this trend.
Majority of U.S. states set the legal smoking age at 18, while a few have set it higher at 19. However, some cities and counties – including New York City and Hawaii County – have already raised the smoking age to 21.
The law takes which come into effect on Jan. 1, 2016 will also ban the sale, purchase or use of electronic cigarettes for those under the age of 21. The bill also targets smoking and e-cigarette use at state parks and beaches.
Lawmakers in Washington state and California have also pushed to raise the legal smoking age to 21 in recent months.
Like always, there are some in opposition to the bill debating that it limits choice for people considered adults in other situations, like joining the military.
It is reported that an estimated nine out of 10 smokers start before the age of 21 in Hawai, and many claim receiving cigarettes from friends or relatives of legal age, according to the governor’s office.
The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids claims that tobacco use kills 1,400 people and costs some $526 million in medical bills annually in Hawaii – a huge loss that must be curtailed.
Researchers have found that raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21 or 25 years old would significantly decreases smoking and tobacco-related diseases in the country and that a majority of U.S. adults support raising the legal age to 21.
Adult smoking rates in the country have dropped sharply to 18 percent of the population today from 42 percent in 1964.