On January 1, 2016, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to raise the smoking age of tobacco sales and purchases from 18 to 21. The law prohibits the sale, purchase, possession, and consumption of cigarettes, other tobacco products and electronic smoking devices to anyone under the age of 21.
Although 125 cities and counties have similar laws, Hawaii is the first to raise the age limit statewide. Hawaii Governor David Ige proclaimed, “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 tobacco-free.”
Nationally, 95% of adults who smoke began smoking before reaching the age of 21. Similarly, in Hawaii, 86% of current adult smokers started before age 21. About 10% of Hawaii high school youth, and 7% of young adults aged 18 to 20 years currently smoke cigarettes. However, tobacco use is not limited to cigarettes alone. In Hawaii, e-cigarette use has increased six-fold among middle school students from approximately 2% in 2011 to 12% in 2015, and more than quadrupled among high school students during the same time period from about 5% to 22%; 20% of 18-20 year olds used e-cigarettes in 2014.
The timely March 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that raising the tobacco sale age would yield substantial public health benefits. The increase to age 21 would significantly delay the age when young people first experiment or begin using tobacco, reduce the risk that they will transition to regular tobacco use, and increase their chances of quitting if they become regular users.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concurred, since numerous studies show that nicotine exposure during adolescence can negatively impact brain development, cause serious addiction, and lead to persistent tobacco use.
In Hawaii, there was widespread support for this landmark legislation from the public health sector, as well as from educators, youth advocates, legislators, public safety representatives, law enforcement, and many community groups that are concerned about the health of Hawaii’s youth.
Raising the smoking age to 21 had the full support of the armed forces in Hawaii. All military branches in the state have directed retail outlets that are located on military properties to stop selling tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco and electronic smoking devices, to anyone under age 21. All military personnel and dependents, as well as other family members, guests and base residents, have been notified to comply with the new law on military bases throughout the state.