(BIVN) – Hawaiʻi Island State Representative Richard Creagan went before the House Committee on Health to speak out on the legal smoking age in Hawaiʻi, and the dangers of nicotine in general, saying the issue “deserves more interest from this body, because I think we can do more than we have done in the past.”
Its not often legislators testify during committee meetings, although Creagan – who is also a physician – has done so previously, usually to share his medical expertise.
The proposal before the House committee was Senate Bill 1244, which “clarifies that liability for illegally selling tobacco products and electronic smoking devices to persons under 21 is borne by the retail entity, entity that holds a retail tobacco permit, or entity registered to sell electronic smoking devices, as opposed to an employee.”
“Cigarette taxes are very retrogressive. We’re taxing the victims of addiction,” Rep. Creagan told the House committee.
“But on the other hand,” Creagan added, “we’ve become addicted to that money, as well.”
Earlier this legislative session, Rep. Creagan – a Democrat representating the 5th House District on the Big Island, which includes Naʻalehu, Captain Cook, and Keauhou – made headlines by taking aim at tobacco with House Bill 1509. The bill proposed to “progressively bans the sale of cigarettes by raising the minimum age of persons to whom cigarettes may be legally sold to 30 years of age in 2020, 40 years of age in 2021, 50 years of age in 2022, 60 years of age in 2023, and then 100 years of age in 2024.”
The bill was held in committee, where it died in early February.
The income stream from cigarette taxes “is gonna have to continue, or at least decreased gradually, and not suddenly,” Creagan mused during the March 14 House Health Committee hearing on SB 1244. “My ban was trying to decrease it gradually, but I guess it was a little too much,” Creagan said, to the laughter of his fellow lawmakers.
“Bans do work,” Creagan continued. “We have the federal ban of 18. Last year we banned it to 21, and I think we need to consider increasing that ban and that’s what I’m proposing today. I had an amendment to do that which amends this current bill the first part of it actually.”
Creagan proposed amending the bill by inserting language that would increase the age limit on the smoking ban from 21 to 25.
Creagan then read from a prepared statement: “Despite decades of struggle with the tobacco industry, and the laudable reduction of the percentage of adults that smoke cigarettes in Hawaii – from possibly at 50%, at one time, to possibly less than 15%, at this time, according to the New England Journal of Medicine – cigarette smoking remains the most important, preventable health hazard in our society, and in this state. In addition, we now have the rise of the use of e-cigarettes, which while initially giving hope to those who thought this was a non-carcinogenic nicotine delivery system that could wean smokers off of combustible cigarettes, instead has spawned an exploding epidemic of vaping among teenagers.”
“Hawaiʻi passed a ban on sales of cigarettes and e-cigarettes to those
individuals under 21 years of age last year,” Creagan testified, “but the vaping epidemic has not noticeably slowed. One of the major concerns is the level of nicotine inhaled from electronic vaping devices is actually higher than from cigarettes. So, you know, if nicotine is causing a problem, nicotine is causing more of a problem from electronic cigarettes, not less. It has been shown that many of the negative effects and women’s reproductive health and the health of their fetuses and babies is mediated not by the carcinogenic component of cigarettes, which vaping devices largely lack, but by the nicotine contents which vaping devices have in higher levels.”
“The political blowback from voters – which I’ve been getting, of course – wouldn’t be enough to knock us out of office,” Creagan said.
Rep. Gene Ward pressed Creagan on his belief that such a law would not give rise to a black market.
“The tobacco industry actually raises that boogieman of black markets, while actually instituting black markets throughout the world themselves,” Rep. Creagan answered. “So, you know, black markets are there but from what I’ve been able to tell we do have a robust enforcement arm for the tobacco settlement people and they don’t seem to think that there’s a robust black market here, at this point, nor considering our geographic isolation is it likely to happen”
Rep. Ward also noted that “marijuana gets a pass,” adding, “so you can smoke anything but marijuana, and you’d be penalized, but if you smoke marijuana you don’t get any penalties.”
“I think if you look at the substance of marijuana smoke, it’s gonna cause the same or similar level of cancers as cigarettes, if people start smoking heavily,” Creagan said. “The problem is … because it’s illegal, there hasn’t been any substantive research addressing that. So in the future, I think that you know non-combustible ingestion of marijuana is gonna take over from smoking because the the carcinogenic in marijuana smoke are very similar to those of cigarette smoke. So there’s very little doubt in my mind that it causes cancer.”
However, Creagan added that “in cigarettes you have a very toxic substance, nicotine, whereas in marijuana you don’t have the same thing. THC is not very toxic, in fact – it’s the prescribed substance: Marinol is THC, it’s a level three substance. Nicotine is not even on the schedule, but it should be. It’s so addicting, they say it’s as addictive as heroin, but it’s never been scheduled, even though it is a medication.”
Aside from Creagan’ viewpoint, Senate Bill 1244 received many testimonies in opposition to the measure.
“The mistake or carelessness of an employee should not reflect on the employer,” wrote Mariner Revell for Irie Hawaii Stores. “Furthermore, if an employee has malicous intentions of harming employer, it would be verry easy to do so by breaking the law and selling tobacco to underaged persons. There is no way to really tell if an employee had malicious intentions or was carless in any case it is the fault of the person selling the product not the employer.”
The House health committee recommended that the bill be passed, which will now go before the House Judiciary Committee on Monday, March 18.