The only sensible way to keep Hawaii’s youth safe is through enforcement, not with new laws.
I was disappointed by recent Civil Beat coverage on a proposal at the state Legislature to ban flavored tobacco and vape products, “Hawaii Seemed Poised to Adopt a Vape Flavor Ban Then Came the Amendments.”
It seemed largely one sided and appeared to unfairly question the motives of some of the lawmakers.
In 2009, I established Volcano as Hawaii’s original vape shop. Since that time, we’ve grown to 16 locations providing customizable vape products that are an alternative to tobacco for adults in the islands.
In addition, my company takes every precaution to ensure our products do not fall into the hands of our local youth.
The problem I have with the story is that it didn’t even bother to ask or explain how the ban is supposed to address youth smoking and vaping. This is the entire purpose of the measure according to advocates, yet there was no discussion of the bill’s merits.
Here’s why that matters. It is already illegal to sell tobacco and vape, flavored or not, to anyone under 21 years old. It is also illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to even possess these items.
So why aren’t we enforcing the existing laws if we have such an epidemic of underage vaping or smoking? More importantly, how is a ban on flavors supposed to help?
Bans Don’t Work
It’s obvious that bans don’t work — it certainly hasn’t stopped fireworks. Anyone with a pulse on New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July can attest to that. On those holidays, there’s so many illegal fireworks being lit that you can barely see 10 feet in front of you in certain neighborhoods due to all the smoke.
Sure, maybe you can’t buy fireworks at Longs anymore, but it’s obviously being imported without much trouble and readily available through a vast underground market. I fully expect that’ll happen for flavored vape and tobacco. Enterprising criminals or online vendors will happily sell to locals, including keiki, and ship flavored products to the islands to fill the gap in the market.
Rep. Ryan Yamane, who amended the bill, rightfully recognized this core shortcoming of the ban. Seems logical therefore that he would assign responsibilities to the Department of Health and attorney general to ensure that there’s some sort of enforcement.
It’s shocking then that the bill’s advocates would question Yamane’s motives when making these changes since his actions are totally justified. It’s even worse that they would suggest campaign contributions from tobacco companies caused him to add these requirements in the bill.
If the reporter or advocates had bothered to conduct an analysis across industries rather than just looking at tobacco and vape, I bet they would find that health care providers and insurers contribute exponentially more than tobacco companies to legislators’ campaigns each year.
Furthermore, if elected officials were so easily swayed by donations as advocates suggest then a ban would have been enacted years ago. After all, medical insurers and others in the health care industry have routinely been on the other side of tobacco interests in policy debates.
Obviously, it’s far easier and politically safer to rubber stamp a bill being supported by young high school students fighting for a good cause. However, I actually appreciate that Yamane was brave enough to thoughtfully examine the issue and exercise a little common sense.
If we’re not enforcing the existing law that is supposed to protect everyone under age 21, then how do we expect to enforce a ban on flavors?
Surely we can do better. The only sensible way to keep Hawaii’s youth safe is through enforcement, not with new laws.
Moreover, an onerous ban will only hurt hundreds of local businesses and employees while leading to the growth of an illegal underground market.
Advocates should be pushing instead to utilize the millions of dollars in tobacco settlement funds to provide enforcement resources rather than pursuing a ban that we know won’t work.
Josh Burnett – Civil Beat – 2022-04-25.