Big Island restricting tobacco sales to 21 and up

HILO, Hawaii (AP) — Big Island lawmakers have agreed to raise the age minimum for buying tobacco to 21, making Hawaii County the first in the state to make the age older than 18.

Mayor Billy Kenoi is expected to sign the bill that the county council passed unanimously Wednesday, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1e2ogHv ).

The measure would take effect July 1 and affect people who haven’t had their 18th birthday yet. People who are already older than 18 would be allowed to continue buying cigarettes.

The bill would not make it illegal for people ages 18 to 20 to smoke. But people who sell tobacco to customers under 21 would be subject to fines ranging from $500 to $2,000.

New York City and two towns in Massachusetts have passed similar laws. Texas is also considering such a measure.

Waikoloa resident Bob Green said it isn’t right to ban sales of a product that would still be legal to use.

“We can all agree that smoking is a terrible vice. … So, we have a filthy, legal habit,” Green said. But Green said the bill hits at the question of who is considered an adult and what rights those young adults have.

“Why is the council taking a select group of adults and deciding what legal activity they can and cannot do?” Green said.

Executive Director Jessica Yamauchi of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii said there are more than twice as many smokers ages 18 to 20 as there are ages 16 and 17.

“Many smokers turn to daily use between 18 and 21,” she said. “That is the critical time they transition into daily users.”

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Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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