Anti-smoking bills advance in House
A casual cigarette could soon become more expensive and restricted under a pack of health-focused bills making their way through the state House.
All three bills have already received the Senate's approval.
Under one bill advancing yesterday, lighting up would not be allowed in a wide array of public spaces including bars, airports, bowling alleys, galleries, coin-operated laundries and any enclosed sections of public stadiums. Open-air public areas such as parks and beaches, as well as other areas like hotel rooms and tobacco stores, would be exempt from the prohibition.
The bill is largely aimed at protecting people from inhaling secondhand smoke in their workplaces.
Workers at bars and restaurants are particularly vulnerable, said Christopher Pablo, director of government and community affairs at Kaiser Permanente and chairman of the American Cancer Society Hawaii Pacific.
Food service workers are 50 percent more likely to die from lung cancer than the public, he said.
"It's easier to say, 'These people have a choice' -- not everyone has a choice of where they work," he said.
Members of the House Health Committee also passed a measure that would ban sales of flavored cigarettes in Hawaii because their sweet-sounding varieties such as cocoa and candy are believed to be attractive to children.
Lawmakers, however, decided to wait a few more days to fine-tune another measure that would boost taxes on cigarettes -- splitting the proceeds between the University of Hawaii's Cancer Research Center and state smoking prevention programs.
David McClain, the university's president, showed up yesterday to deliver the school's testimony in strong support of the measure.
In response to questions from Rep. Alex Sonson (D, Pearl City-Waipahu) over the appropriateness of using a cigarette tax to fund a cancer center, McClain acknowledged that there are other ways to find money for the school's research, but this one appears right.
"This particular financing mechanism seems to be, from a public finance theory point of view, a pretty strong one because you target the tax at a social problem. The tax reduces the social problem and at the same time generates resources that allow you to treat the side effects of the social problem for a long time," he said.
According to the American Hear Association, 82 percent of the islands' adults do not smoke. But the use of tobacco costs Hawaii taxpayers and businesses an estimated $575 million in medical expenses and lost productivity.
McClain said later that bolstering the center is the university's highest priority, and the millions brought in by the tax increase would allow the center to nearly double its number of researchers over the next 10 years and build new facilities.
"So it's really an upgrade in the health care of our community," he said.
Under the current version of the measure, the tobacco tax would go from the current 7 cents per cigarette to 9 cents on the first day of 2007, an increase of $1.40 per pack of 20 cigarettes to $1.80. The tax would then increase to 11 cents in 2008 and 13 cents in 2009.
While the difference per smoke is only a few cents, those pennies add up to a significant chunk of money.
The proposed law would bring in an estimated $24 million the first year and then $48 million and $72 million in the following years.
A House version of the bill would raise the tax a half-cent more and thus bring $30 million, $60 million and $90 million respectively -- minus the estimated 10 percent drop in smokers in the state because the habit would become more expensive, said Rep. Josh Green, vice chairman of the Health Committee.
"The bill is a great one because by making it more expensive for people to smoke, fewer people smoke. By using the funds from the bill ... we'll be directly able to encourage people not to smoke," he said.
According to the Institute on Money in State Politics, of the approximately $6 million raised by Hawaii legislative candidates during the 2004 election, $155,250 came from tobacco companies or companies that sell tobacco products.