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Tobacco grades are in: Hawaiʻi receives 'A' for air quality, 'F' for flavored products

Congress is trying to crack down on teenagers and young adults using tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
Tony Dejak
Congress is trying to crack down on teenagers and young adults using tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

Hawaiʻi has received its annual report card for tobacco use. How did the state do? Data shows that it's not as bad as the federal average.

The American Lung Association's State of Tobacco Control report outlines the smoking rates, deaths and legislation each U.S. state endured over the past year.

Hawaiʻi was granted an "A," its highest grade, for smoke-free air.

The state received high marks for the number of public spaces that prohibit smoking. Smoking tobacco products is currently prohibited in government work sites, private work sites, schools, restaurants, bars and recreational facilities.

However, the state received a failing grade in 'flavored tobacco products.'

The report noted that a bill in last year's legislative session would have fully prohibited the sale of flavored tobacco products. The bill had the support of the ALA in its original form, yet after several drafts with amendments, the association chose to help veto the measure — stating that the changes were of "benefit to tobacco companies and a disservice to youth in Hawai‘i."

There are currently several pieces of legislation in this year's session that look to tackle tobacco use. Rep. Elijah Pierick of Oʻahu is leading House Bill 860, which would raise the legal age for tobacco use and possession from 21 years old to 25 years old.

Additionally, there are no state laws that regulate flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes.

Sen. Brandon Elefante of Oʻahu is championing a bill to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products and mislabeled e-liquid products. Senate Bill 496 states that 81% of youth who have ever used a tobacco product report it being flavored, causing an easy gateway toward nicotine addiction.

Both bills have passed their first reading.

While legislators continue to fight for smoking-related restrictions, Hawaiʻi received average and above-average grades in areas of tobacco prevention and cessation funding, tobacco taxes and access to cessation services.

The state's Medicaid program and employee health plans cover most medication and counseling to quit smoking. However, there is no provision for private insurance, said ALA.

The CDC recommends the state spend $13.7 million on tobacco prevention programs. The total funding for the state's tobacco control programs for FY2023 covers 63.7% of the recommended cost at $8.7 million.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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