Expand smoke-free spaces and raise tobacco tax
The Legislature is considering bills to further restrict smoking in public spaces, ban flavored cigarettes and raise the tobacco tax.
EFFORTS to reduce smoking have proven to be effective worldwide, providing evidence for expansion of Hawaii's restrictions and an increase in the state tobacco tax. Bills that have been passed by the Senate and merit House approval
would discourage young people from adopting the habit and encourage older addicts to stop, while generating revenue for treatment of tobacco-induced illness.
Evidence has mounted in recent years that secondhand smoke is a significant health risk to nonsmokers. A recent study found nearly 80,000 people in the 25-nation European Union die each year from passive smoke. Eighty-five percent of that smoke is created between puffs and is more toxic than what the smoker inhales and exhales through filters.
Hawaii forbids smoking in restaurants and now should follow the lead of 12 others states that ban it in bars and other public areas. In the past two years, bars have been put off-limits to smoking in Ireland, Norway, Northern Ireland and Belgium. England is expected to enact a ban that will take place in mid-2007.
Concerns that smoking bans would cause a drop in customers have proven unfounded. Even in Ireland, where the ban took effect in pubs two years ago, revenues have increased.
Some bar and restaurant owners have worried that Hawaii tourism from Japan would be at risk. However, the percentage of Japanese adults who smoke has declined from 49.4 percent to 29.2 percent in the past 40 years, according to Japan Tobacco Inc. Many public facilities in Japan are smoke-free.
American adults who smoke have fallen to 20.9 percent, but 21.7 percent of high school students have acquired the habit. An effective way to reduce those numbers would be to raise the tax, now $1.40 per pack, to $1.80 next January, $2 in 2008 and $2.20 in 2009, joining six states with taxes of more than $2 a pack. Studies have shown that every 10 percent price increase results in a decrease of 3 percent to 7 percent in young people who start smoking.
The tax revenue is projected at $24 million next year, rising to $72 million in 2009. The proceeds should be divided between the University of Hawaii's Cancer Research Center and state smoking prevention programs.
The third bill would prohibit the sales of cigarettes with "characterizing flavor" other than tobacco's natural flavor or menthol. Tobacco companies recently have tried to lure youngsters with cigarettes such as Camels' "Kauai Kolada," said to be flavored with "Hawaiian hints of pineapple and coconut."
The marketing strategy is deplorable and has been the deserved focus of a media campaign financed by a trust fund created by the 1998 national settlement of a lawsuit by states against Big Tobacco. The companies could challenge an outright ban in court.