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Anti-vape advocates, tobacco industry both criticize Hawaiʻi bill intended to ban flavored products

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Advocates against vaping and the tobacco industry are both voicing their disappointment in a bill intended to ban all flavored tobacco products in the islands. Meanwhile, some lawmakers are calling the measure a success by finding a compromise.

State representatives approved Tuesday a measure that would have banned all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, to combat youth vaping in the state.

But amendments to House Bill 1570 allowed products authorized for sale by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That would exempt more than 1,000 tobacco products.

Amanda Fernandez with the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaiʻi says the language used in the amendments was proposed by a tobacco lobbyist’s testimony.

"This is a tobacco industry drafted, or supported, amendment to the bill. We are allowing Juul to draft a loophole and the regulations on the industry that they represent," she said. "They are writing their own loopholes into our laws."

"So we have to ask ourselves, what is it about this language that makes that worth it to them? And it’s because they know it’s not going to have this long-term impact on their industry and on their profit. So we have to think not just about the short-term wins, the short-term compromise, but what is the long-term effect of this, and who are we throwing under the bus when we make these types of concessions?" Fernandez said.

Fernandez says the current version of HB 1570 cedes the state's authority on tobacco products to the FDA.

During the House discussion, representatives discussed their concerns with the measure, citing the bill’s exemptions.

The bill’s introducer Scot Matayoshi also criticized the exemptions, but says the measure “is better than nothing.”

"You’re right, this bill is not perfect. It’s not going to get rid of 100% of all flavored vaping products. It’s not going to somehow prevent any kind of flavored vaping products from making the black market. This is not going to prevent every single child in Hawaiʻi from flavored vaping ever," he said.

"But what it will do is it’ll get rid of the flavored vaping products in Foodland. It’ll get rid of the flavored vaping products in Longs. It’ll get rid of the vape shops that are selling legal products to people over 21, who are then turning around and selling these products on Instagram, on Facebook," Matayoshi said.

In a release, chief operations officer of Volcano Vape Shops Scott Rasak says the bill hurts local businesses and jobs – and impacts the state’s tax revenues. He adds state lawmakers have failed to enforce existing restrictions, and will blanket a legitimate industry with a prohibition.

HB 1570 was approved in a 22-15 vote. The bill will go to Gov. David Ige for further consideration. If approved, the new regulations will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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