Big Island restricting tobacco sales to 21 and up

Big Island restricting tobacco sales to 21 and up

The Big Island will become the first county in the state to ban sales of tobacco products to anyone 21 and under.

The county council unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that makes it illegal for retailers to market cigarettes, cigars, electronic cigarettes or other tobacco products to anyone under the legal drinking age.

Only three other cities in the country have approved a 21 and under tobacco sales ban.

"This is a historic bill," said Big Island Councilman Dru Kanuha, who authored the bill.

"We are looking at Hawaii County as a model."

The measure, which would go into effect July 1, calls for fines of $500 for any retailer who sells to underage smokers. The fine jumps to $2,000 for multiple offenders.

Currently, retailer can sell tobacco products to anyone 18 and older.

Proponents say the bill does not punish the underage smoker.

"The intent is that if we can stop or delay a handful of young people becoming addicted to begin with, then this bill would have done what it was intended to do," Kanuha said.

But some retailers think it's a bad idea.

"That doesn't make sense because once you turn 18, you have adult responsibilities and smoking is one of them," said Rex Benigno, owner of 808 Smokes in Kalihi.

Benigno said the measure will hurt sales of the e-cigarettes, which are popular among smokers who want to quit.

"There's a lot in that age group between 18 to like 25 who are picking up on these electronic cigarettes," he said.

The measure next goes to Mayor Billy Kenoi, who is expected to sign it.

Once it's signed, the Big Island will join New York and to cities in Massachussetts, who have raised the legal limit to 21.

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