HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The debate about e-cigarettes in Hawaii reignited Saturday during a public hearing with the senate committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health.
The committee approved a bill that would levy a tax on electronic smoking devices and e-liquids containing nicotine in Hawaii, beginning January 1, 2017.
Supporters of SB 2691 say it's a step in the right direction.
"We strongly support this," said Jessica Yamauchi, executive director of Hawaii Public Health Institute. "Currently e-cigs don't have any kind of tobacco tax attached to them whereas all cigarettes and tobacco products do have a tax."
Thomas Wills, interim director of the UH Cancer Center's Prevention and Control Program, conducted a year-long study on Hawaii's adolescents. He says in the last four years, there's been a dramatic increase in e-cigarette use by teenagers and that those who use them are more likely to start smoking tobacco cigarettes. Wills hopes imposing this tax would curb that.
"That's a finding that's a little concerning because everyone knows the health hazards of cigarette smoking," said Wills.
Sean Anderson, owner of Black Lava Vape in Kailua-Kona, testified against the bill.
He maintains e-cigs are an effective way to quit smoking regular cigarettes.
"What nobody's discussing is how many people have actually stopped smoking using vapor devices of any sort," Anderson said.
Anderson adds that taxing e-cigs like tobacco cigs would only encourage smokers to remain with tobacco products.
"The state knows tobacco will kill you but they can't prove that vaping does any harm other than gets them off tobacco, so it's got to be about money," Anderson said.
Yamauchi disagrees. "We continue to see a decline in tobacco use among our youth and adult populations here and we're seeing the opposite with e-cigs."