‘We’re just elated’: Anti-vaping advocates win nine-year battle to tax vape products similar to tobacco

It's crunch time at the state Capitol and at least one major initiative, the reform of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, has failed to pass.
Published: Apr. 29, 2023 at 1:36 PM HST|Updated: May. 1, 2023 at 5:40 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii lawmakers cut it close Friday evening on their deadline to finish the final version of bills on hundreds of important issues.

Ultimately, there were big decisions about tourism management, Aloha Stadium, and tax rates.

After working since January and holding hundreds of hearings and thousands of bills, drafting legislation came down to a frantic and chaotic hour and a half on Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.

With scores of bills backlogged and waiting for budget approval - most lawmakers, staff, state officials, and people watching bills jammed a single room with committees rotating in to spit out their votes.

One of the 11th-hour agreements includes a tax relief package, raising income tax credits and brackets.

“This is a broad-reaching tax package that will really assist middle and lower-income families,” said House Speaker Scott Saiki.

Many long-standing issues got attention.

Anti-vaping advocates won a nine-year battle to tax vape products like tobacco — with a 70% surcharge. McKinley High School special education teacher Laverne Moore said she fought for it for her students.

“By taxing e-cigarettes, we are hoping that the use among the youth will decrease,” she said. “We are just elated!”

But there was bad news for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. After losing a bid to build condos on its Kakaako land, lawmakers also denied OHA’s request for $65 million to repair the wharf at Kewalo basin.

Also denied was total funding for the redevelopment of Aloha Stadium; with $350 million already approved, Speaker Saiki said the House felt that was enough and withheld $49 million more than the governor wanted.

“We do not want the stadium to become another rail project where the cost spirals out of control,” Saiki said.

And despite public calls to reform tourism management and marketing - a bill that would have replaced the Hawaii Tourism Authority also failed. So the agency survives, although it will receive no money in the state general fund budget.

House Tourism Chair Rep. Sean Quinlan advocated for the repeal of the agency and more focus on managing tourism impact. He said HTA would be less able to do marketing.

“There is still enough money left in HTA to continue their destination management efforts, to continue a lot of their cultural support, if not all of it,” Quinlan said. “The big question is, will there be money left over for marketing -- I suspect not much.”

Also dying because lawmakers could not agree on details was the governor’s proposed $50 fee for tourist access to state parks and other sites.

The lawmakers did leave some pad in their schedule, so they can come back next week with an opportunity to fix any mistakes that were made in Friday’s frantic drafting sessions. They are to adjourn next week Thursday finally.