Hawaii considers first statewide ban on e-cigarette flavors

A customer browses various flavored vape juices for electronic cigarettes.

(CNN)Lawmakers in Hawaii are considering a bill that would outlaw flavored tobacco products.

The flavors often come in liquid form and can be used in e-cigarette or vaping devices.
There are more than 15,000 flavors online, ranging from cotton candy to banana cream, according to data cited by health groups. Lawmakers say the packaging is deceptive and designed to look like Jolly Rachers or Sour Patch Kids.
    Advocates for the flavors say they can help adults taper addictions to actual cigarettes, while critics argue they hook young people on nicotine, driving them toward real cigarettes.
    If passed, the bill would make Hawaii the first state to ban flavored tobacco, though a number of US cities have passed these same type of measures.
    San Francisco, Berkeley, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Providence, Rhode Island have also passed flavored tobacco regulations or bans.
    Hawaii's legislature tried to ban flavored tobacco products in 2014, but that bill failed..

    Advocates want to prevent kids from taking up smoking

    Ahead of a hearing last month about the bill, the Hawaii Public Health Institute submitted a list of 120 organizations supporting the legislation as part of the #FlavorsHooksKidsHI campaign. The groups included the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society Action Network, as well as the Hawaii chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
    The bill also enjoys support from the state's Department of Health, Department of Education and the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
    In its written testimony, the state's health department argued that "the unprecedented youth vaping epidemic in Hawaii" poses seious public health risks. It cited a sixfold increase in vaping among middle school students and a sixfold increase among high school youth. That would put vaping rates among young Hawaiians at twice the national average.
    "Those who use flavored tobacco products are more likely to progress to regular smoking," the study said, noting the growing scale of the global e-cigarette industry, now valued at over $10 billion.

    Vaporizing an industry

    Purveyors of tobacco and electronic cigarettes were opposed to the measure. Cory Smith, who runs Volcano Fine Electronic Cigarettes, wrote to the committee that his company was the largest retailer and wholesaler of vapor products in the state, and argued that the bill would "decimate" the Hawaii vapor industry.
    Smith wrote that e-cigarettes don't contain actual tobacco, so therefore "every electronic cigarette available on the worldwide market is 'flavored,'" and even the e-cigarettes advertised as having a basic "tobacco flavor" had to have that flavor synthetically added.
    He said the bill was a "de facto ban of the manufacture and sale of all electronic cigarettes."
    Though health groups largely argue that flavored e-cigarettes are a gateway drug for young people into more dangerous nicotine products, Smith argued they can have an opposite effect in long-term adult smokers.
    He cited a recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental and Public Health, in which 49% of adults surveyed told researchers that removing flavors would increase their cravings for actual cigarettes.
    In his letter, Smith told the committee the bill would hurt adults who'd cut their smoking habit, and "decrease their chances of remaining abstinent from smoking."