State lawmakers passed several tobacco-related measures on Thursday, including one that bans all flavored vaping products and another that gives teachers the authority to confiscate e-cigarette products from students.
Senators on the consumer protection and judiciary committees heard testimony on Senate Bill 2903, which would ban the sale and possession in the state of any flavored tobacco product -- including menthol and mint. The bill would also amend the definition of tobacco products to include electronic smoking devices and e-liquids.
Supporters say the measure will address vaping rates among Hawaiʻi youth, which are among the highest in the country.
"We talk about smoking rates among high schoolers and middle schoolers increasing," said state Health Director Bruce Anderson. "And we talk about a 7% increase, that's 10,000 new kids starting today. That's not a small number of people who are taking up smoking e-cigarettes and being addicted to nicotine."
Opponents say the bill would not only take away their freedom, but would hurt local businesses and encourage a black market in tobacco products.
Cory Smith, Volcano eCigs CEO and owner, testified a ban could cause people to make their own products, which could expose adult e-cigarette users to greater health risks.
Smith says his company only sells products that are tested and registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and have quality controls.
S.B. 2903 will next be heard in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
Meanwhile, both the House judiciary and Senate consumer protection committees discussed bills that would crack down on online vaping sales. Senate Bill 2902 and House Bill 2346 would increase the permit fee for retailers to sell tobacco, and prohibit individuals from purchasing products online.
Both measures were passed with several amendments and will be considered in the House Committee on Finance and Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
Representatives with the House judiciary committee also heard testimony on a bill that would address youth vaping in public schools. House Bill 2457 would not only ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and prohibit the mislabeling of e-liquid products, but also stiffen the punishments for minors purchasing or possessing the products.
The bill also requires the state Department of Education to establish a safe harbor program to allow students to turn in their electronic smoking devices. It would further require teachers and educators to confiscate any device in the possession of students.
Several organizations testified in support of sections of the bill, such as the ban on flavored tobacco products, but raised concerns with others.
"We don't support fining youth," said Christine Russo of the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association. "That is not going to solve the youth vaping epidemic."
Russo also emphasized tobacco products, including vaping products, are already considered contraband under Board of Education and Department of Education policies.
"Teachers are already confiscating the products when we are able to," Russo said. "It is very challenging. The devices are small. The students are clever in finding ways to hide the products."
Russo says education programs, regulating shipments, and taxing e-cigarettes and vaping products will go a long way in addressing the epidemic.
The committee approved H.B. 2457 with amendments. The measure now goes to the House finance committee.