HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - New laws affecting users of cigarettes and electronic smoking in devices in Hawaii go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016, but enforcement won't begin for three months. Health officials and Honolulu police will focus on educating residents, visitors, and retailers through April 1.
Employees at E-Cig City Hawaii in Kalihi have already put up signs letting customers know about the changes.
"I'd say 5% to 10% of our customers are between the ages of 18 and 20," said sales representative David Panares.
Hawaii is the first state in the country to ban the sale or possession of cigarettes and electronic smoking devices for anyone under 21.
"Our youth survey shows that a four-fold increase happened in public high school students who use e-cigarettes, from 5% in 2011 to 22% by 2015," said Lola Irvin, the administrator of the chronic disease prevention and health prevention division of the state Department of Health.
"When children get addicted to nicotine in their teenage years and under age 21, it's so hard for them to quit. It's such an addictive substance that even those who want to quit find that they cannot," said Virginia Pressler, director of the state Department of Health.
A second measure prohibits the use of e-cigarettes in restaurants and other places where smoking is banned. Workers at Ruth's Chris Steak House already ask customers who want to vape to step outside.
"We want the people to be enjoying the smells of our food, the service and everything, not see a big cloud hang above their table," explained general manager Don Asam.
Health officials are working with the visitor industry to raise awareness about the new restrictions.
"Officers will have the discretion of determining whether they want to make it an enforcement or an education incident. The actual protocols haven't really been established yet," said Maj. Ray Ancheta of the Honolulu Police Department.
Some critics believe that many of underage users will simply order e-cigarette merchandise off the internet.
"Online doesn't ask for ID, especially if it's coming from the mainland or elsewhere. Just going to ship it to them and if they do have that age stuff where they ask for date of birth, they can lie about that," said Ed Cabradilla, a sales representative for E-Cig City Hawaii.
Stores caught selling prohibited products to underage customers will be fined $500 for the first offense and $500 to $2,000 for subsequent offenses.
Any minors caught by police trying to buy illegal items are subject to a $10 fine for the first offense, $50 for subsequent violations, or community service.