House weighsSmokers, already facing a ban on lighting up in Oahu restaurants starting in July, may soon find that their habit is not only unwelcome but also more expensive.
cigarette tax hike
A bill to raise the levy 20 percent
passes through the health
and finance panels
By Treena Shapiro
Hawaii legislators are considering a 20 percent increase in the state's cigarette tax to $1.20 a pack from $1.
Ramona Stutzmann, who works at Eastside Grill in Moiliili, said that if passed, the bill could be the impetus that gets her to stop smoking. "I'm trying to quit," she said. "I think it will help the people who are trying to quit."
House Bill 2741 has passed through the Health and Finance committees and will be heard Thursday by the full House.
At nearby Magoo's Pizza, Mark George, 51, said a cigarette tax hike will not deter him from smoking, but health reasons might.
"If you're addicted to something, price doesn't matter," George said. "You might complain about the price, but you're not going to quit."
Anti-tobacco advocates tend to agree, but say the higher tax could prevent young people from starting.
"It affects the kids," said Julian Lipsure, head of tobacco prevention for the state Department of Health.
"If they haven't started already, they're less likely to start, given the cost increase," he said.
In time that would reduce the total number of smokers, he said.
"If you can cut off the supply of new smokers, you can eventually wean the population off," he said.
Clifford Chang, director of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii, said studies show that if the price of cigarettes is raised by about 10 percent, consumption among adults decreases by 3 percent to 5 percent, and youth smoking decreases by about 7 percent.
"We certainly support the tax increase," Chang said. "It reduces the number of smokers."
Isle smokers may feel under siege lately, as the proposed tax hike comes on the heels of the city's ban on restaurant smoking.
Mayor Jeremy Harris signed the ban last week after it was passed by the Honolulu City Council. Other counties are considering similar measures.
Although Stutzmann is resigned to the fact that cigarettes may cost more, she said the government should not decide where people can smoke, referring to the city's restaurant smoking ban. She said that decision should be left up to the restaurant owner.
Eastside Grill owner Robbie Acoba, a nonsmoker, agreed. He said he would be willing to make compromises, like keeping the bar smoke-free until 9 p.m., but he does not think he should have to make the establishment completely nonsmoking.
"They're not giving us a choice," he said. "People choose to come to a bar. People choose to smoke. The city shouldn't choose for us."
But George said he could understand why the government would ban restaurant smoking, even as he lit up a cigarette.
If there is just an invisible line separating the smoking and nonsmoking sections, "it's common sense that the smoke is going to drift over," he said. "If I had little kids, I wouldn't want them to breathe in smoke."
But he suggested that smoking should be allowed when the sections can be separated by walls.
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