“The legislature finds that the cigarette is considered the deadliest artifact in human history.”
So begins the text of a new bill introduced in Hawaii’s State House, calling for a phased ban on cigarette sales in the state by 2024.
Hawaii has some of the most restrictive cigarette laws in the nation. In 2016, it became the first state to raise the age to buy cigarettes to 21. Now, its new bill calls for raising the cigarette-buying age to 30 by next year, up to 40, 50 and 60 in each subsequent year, and up to 100 by 2024.
That would effectively clear Hawaii’s store shelves of cigarettes, although tourists could still bring them in.
And curiously, Hawaii would offer its centenarians the chance to buy cigarettes near the end of their life – if they could find them.
Rep. Richard Creagan, the bill’s sponsor, told CNN the he had received an “opinion from the attorney general that it will likely pass legal muster.”
Creagan said that there was some resistance within the legislature, but based on the large amount of national and international attention he was getting after only introducing the bill, he had resolved to “try a little harder” to get it passed this session. He said he hoped the bill could represent an “endgame” for the cigarette problem, and that it might be easier to pass the bill in Hawaii than in a mainland state.
“On the mainland they have more trouble with this because they have states around them that are selling cigarettes,” he said. “We don’t have any states around us. And that’s why I thought it could be done here, and it would be kind of an example for the rest of the nation and the world.”
Creagan, who is an emergency room doctor, told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, “Basically, we essentially have a group who are heavily addicted — in my view, enslaved by a ridiculously bad industry — which has enslaved them by designing a cigarette that is highly addictive, knowing that it highly lethal. And, it is.”
The age limits would not apply to e-cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco.
Federal law requires states to set the minimum tobacco-purchasing age at 18, and the government enforces the measure by withholding FEMA grants from states who don’t comply. Currently, most states allow 18-year-olds to buy cigarettes, and four have raised the minimum age to 19.
The bill notes that Hawaii “is suffering from its own addiction to cigarettes in the form of the large sums of money that the State receives from state cigarette sales taxes,” to the tune of $100 million annually.
One reason for the law’s staggered rollout is to give the state time to find ways to adjust for the lost cigarette tax revenue.
In 2015, the National Academy of Sciences released a report that argued increasing the age to buy tobacco to 21 would have a “considerable impact” on the age at which someone takes their first puff. The report also suggested “if someone is not a regular tobacco user by age 25, it is highly unlikely he or she will become one.”
Creagan told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald he’s confident the bill will survive any court challenges.
Unlike Second Amendment gun rights, the US Constitution does not recognize smoking as a fundamental right. In 2012, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling against a smoker who challenged an anti-smoking ordinance in Clayton, Missouri, on grounds that it violated his constitutional rights.