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Gov. Ige faces growing calls to veto bill eliminating an anti-tobacco trust fund

Published: Jun. 14, 2021 at 3:53 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 9:28 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A group of private and non-profit agencies along with current and former state leaders are asking Governor Ige to veto House Bill 1296.

It repeals the Hawaii tobacco prevention and control trust fund and transfers balances to the general fund in 2025.

Managed by the Hawaii Community Foundation since 2000, Hawaii’s fund has $43 million which goes toward smoking cessation programs and community interventions. It was created after Big Tobacco paid billions in fines in 1998 to multiple states after the largest civil litigation in US history.

“This is a huge threat because they actually want to negate it, just wipe it,” said Dr. Elizabeth Tam, Chair of Medicine at the John A. Burns School of Medicine and a pulmonologist.

“The fact that it got bulls-eyed like that tells me the tobacco industry was taking a look at that,” said Dr. Tam.

The bill reads, “While the legislature supports tobacco prevention and cessation, given the extraordinary economic conditions that the State is facing, all resources must be examined to protect the overall health, safety, and welfare of the public.”

“I think it’s the perfect storm. We had a really rough year with the pandemic,” said Sheri-Ann Daniels, executive director of Papa Ola Lokahi.

Hawaii has one of the lowest smoking rates in the nation, but health experts say youth vaping is at epidemic levels.

Daniels says dismantling the fund would harm anti-smoking efforts and the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island Community.

“I really don’t know if I want to be on the side of history of pulling back monies that were really designated for a specific purpose,” said Daniels.

Other agencies that testified against the bill were the State Attorney General, Department of Health and UH.

The Hawaii Smokers Alliance supported the bill.

“We encourage the legislature to finally make lobbyist rings such as Hawaii Public Health Institute and Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii actually get off their lazy butts and seek purely private donations,” wrote Michael Zehner of Hawaii Smokers Alliance in testimony.

Governor Ige was involved in the 1998 tobacco settlement when he was a state senator, but won’t say what he’ll do as the state is now facing a projected $635 million dollar budget surplus fueled by the unexpected surge in North American tourists.

“I do think the financial situation of the state has changed dramatically. Do we need to capture all of those funds into the general fund at this time? I think that’s one of the questions we’ll be asking,” said Ige.

The Governor has until next week Monday to inform the legislature of his intent to veto.

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