When the clock strikes midnight and 2016 is here, Hawaii will begin enforcement of a new law stipulating that people must be 21 or older in order to buy or use tobacco products and e-cigarettes.
The measure was voted on earlier in 2015. While Hawaii will be the first state to raise the legal age to 21, similar laws exist in individual cities, including New York City. Not only will it be illegal for those under 21 to buy these products, but anyone caught smoking underage will be given a nominal fine. The first offense will be a $10 ticket (which is actually close to the price of a pack of cigarettes), with any further citations sitting at $50 each, as well as an option for community service.
Retailers caught selling to anyone under 21 face steeper penalties, with a first offense resulting in a $500 fine, and $2000 every time after that.
The law includes using electronic cigarettes, which have been accused of using certain flavors to attract teens to the product. Earlier in December, a study from Harvard linked e-cigarettes to lung disease.
One concern over Hawaii's decision is its effect on members of the military stationed on bases in the state. All four branches of the United States military have bases around Hawaii. While there seems to be support for the decision among the upper brass, citing improved physical fitness among new enlistees, the new law is causing consternation among service members younger than 21 who already smoke. The main argument is that anyone old enough to volunteer to die for others during deployment should have the freedom to choose whether or not to smoke once they've returned to the safety of their own country.
Hawaii is also a popular tourist destination, so it is important for underage visitors to be aware of the law. According to ABC News, thousands of signs have gone up in multiple languages to educate travelers about the policy, so that what starts out as a great tropical vacation doesn't get marred by getting an ugly ticket.
Time will tell how this law will affect teen smoking and vaping rates and if it will have a positive effect on readiness and physical fitness of military members stationed in the state. Additionally, it will be interesting to see how much state revenue is generated from underage smoking citations.