HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Dozens of kids in Hawaii spent the day taking on big tobacco companies. They marched through Downtown Honolulu and rallied at the State Capitol trying to send a message to lawmakers that they are tired of being targeted to start smoking.
There are more than 1,100 tobacco related deaths in Hawaii a year. Another 1,500 Hawaii kids become daily smokers every year. And according to the State Department of Health, $42 million is spent annually on marketing to find "replacement smokers."
Stats like that are why kids are speaking out. They support legislation that would require all tobacco products to be put behind the counter, especially the flavored products like the mini cigars.
"We hear from young people that one of the main ways they get tobacco products is just walking off with them, stealing them. So by moving all those products behind the counter we're going to significantly reduce youth access to those other types of tobacco products," said Nicole Sutton, REAL: Hawaii Youth Movement Exposing the Tobacco Industry Project Coordinator.
They also want to move all tobacco marketing above four feet high, out of the line of site of children and away from areas where candy and toys located.
"The advertising is made specifically to target kids. They're colorful, they're attractive, they know what youths want," said Rose Navalta, University of Hawaii, Hilo Student.
It's a tall order and legally difficult which is why the State Attorney General opposes the idea because it may violate first amendment rights. The product placement restrictions have already been taken out of the bill, but another idea to make it illegal to sell electronic cigarettes to kids under 18 is still up in air.
"You don't have to be 18 to purchase these products. A 12 year old can do it if they wanted to," said Josh Eldred, Baldwin High School Student. "The youth are like guinea pigs right now testing this product."
Many electronic cigarette stores say they don't sell to minors anyway but they also don't want to be lumped in with tobacco products since there is no tobacco involved.
"This is just liquid nicotine which creates water vapor. It's not tobacco," said Davlynn Silva, Dream Electronic Cigarettes. "It's just liquidized nicotine. I wouldn't say it's healthy healthy, but it doesn't have the chemicals a cigarette does. It's way healthier than a cigarette."
"We agree that sales of tobacco, tobacco products, and vapor products to minors should be prohibited, and already have a company policy reflecting that position," wrote Cory Smith, President and Owner of Volcano Fine Electronic Cigarettes, in written testimony to lawmakers.
It's an issue that isn't going to burn out anytime soon. Late this afternoon the bill to ban selling electronic cigarettes to kids passed the health committee and will move on for continued discussion in the State Senate.