Lawmakers pass bill that would make Hawaii first state to raise legal smoking age to 21

A bill that would make Hawaii the first state to raise the legal smoking age to 21 cleared the Legislature on Friday and is headed to the governor.

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It's unclear whether Gov. David Ige will sign the measure. An Ige spokeswoman said he wasn't immediately available for comment.

The bill would prevent adolescents from smoking, buying or both possessing traditional and electronic cigarettes.

Those caught breaking the rules would be fined $10 for the first offense. Subsequent offenses would lead to a $50 fine or mandatory community service.

"It's definitely groundbreaking legislation," said Jessica Yamauchi, executive director of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii, which pushed for the bill. "It's amazing to be the first state in something. That's very exciting for us."

Some local governments have similar bans, including Hawaii County and New York City.

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According to the state Department of Heath, 5,600 kids in Hawaii try smoking each year, and 90 percent of daily smokers begin the habit before age 19. Meanwhile, 1,200 people die from tobacco use or exposure in Hawaii every year.

Opponents say it's unfair that a military veteran returning from service could be prevented from smoking.

"It is not right because you are deemed an adult when you turn 18," said Michelle Johnston, owner of Sub Ohm Vapes in Kailua-Kona.

"You can sign up and be in the military and basically give your life for your country. You can vote," she said. "Why shouldn't you be able to choose if you want to buy tobacco products or vaping products, when you're considered a legal adult?"