Hawaii’s ban on flavored e-cigarettes will land on the governor’s desk, having survived a roller-coaster legislative session that saw the bill near death on multiple occasions.
After a contentious debate on Tuesday, House Bill 1570 passed its final reading in the state House of Representatives with 36 votes in favor and 15 against, reflecting the divide between public health advocates and others. supporters who have turned their backs on the measure they helped draft.
At stake was a Senate amendment that would exempt from prohibition certain tobacco products that had received approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Rep. Scot Matayoshi, the bill’s sponsor, acknowledged the shortcomings of HB 1570 in a speech to the House, but said Hawaii is at “ground zero” in the fight against a vaping epidemic that haunts youth. of Hawaii for years.
“We’ve tried for years in this chamber to enact any type of ban or restriction on flavored vaping,” Matayoshi said. “And we’re here now…about giving our kids some kind of hope that they won’t have to be addicted to nicotine for the rest of their lives.”
The ban, which takes effect after the New Year, prohibits the sale of nearly all flavored tobacco products in stores in Hawaii, including menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. The main target of the measure, however, are fruit-flavored or dessert-flavored e-cigarettes most popular with middle and high school students.
This is a major loss for Hawaii’s legal vaping industry, which has campaigned vigorously against the banning of the products that are their livelihood.
“99.9% of everything our industry sells to adult consumers, legally with age verification, is flavored products,” said Scott Rasak, chief operating officer of Volcano, a chain of vape stores with 16 locations across the state. “Were talking about hundreds of companies, thousands of jobs.”
Vape shop owners say a tobacco ban will force kids to turn to the black market. However, public health activists have long advocated cutting flavored vapes at the source.
The bill’s journey to passage was long and winding.
HB 1570 nearly doubled in length after House Health Committee Chairman Rep. Ryan Yamane packaged the measure with amendments that advocates described as toxic to the bill’s intent.
Senate Health Committee Chairman Jarrett Keohokalole largely restored the bill to its original form, but inserted language exempting products that have obtained FDA approval from entering the market.
Although no flavored e-cigarette product currently has marketing approval from a Biden administration staunchly opposed to flavored tobacco, proponents fear the exemption will allow deep-pocketed tobacco companies to charm regulators into coming years.
“Advocates who have been doing this work for decades know that the tobacco industry is always 10 steps ahead,” said Amanda Fernandes, director of advocacy at the Hawaii Institute of Public Health. “Tobacco manufacturers who can afford to put their products through the review process with the FDA are going to be favored by this exemption.”
The bill would lose support from the Hawaii Institute of Public Health and partner organizations and even saw the Hawaii Department of Health publicly oppose the amended measure.
“The DOH opposes the version of HB 1570 that was passed by the Legislature today,” spokeswoman Kaitlin Arita-Chang wrote in an email. “The inclusion of FDA language negates the original intent of the bill – which was to ban flavored vaping products.
Even after gaining legislative approval, the future of the ban is uncertain.
Hawaii’s vaping industry will challenge the legality of the ban in court, Volcano’s Rasak promised.
The bill could also be pushed back by Gov. David Ige, who introduced a similar flavor ban in the Senate this year but has yet to reveal his position on HB 1570 in its current form.
“I think the governor might veto the bill,” Matayoshi said in an interview after the vote. “It really depends on the community (public health) census.”
Despite easily passing the Senate by a 22-1 vote in mid-April, HB 1570 barely secured a two-thirds majority in the House veto.
Whatever roadblocks emerge, Matayoshi said he will continue to advocate for the passage of the ban.
“This bill is making so much progress that I couldn’t in good conscience stop supporting it,” Matayoshi said. “Better some regulation than nothing. And when it comes to children’s lives, I take it, I take it.
Civil Beat health coverage is backed by the Atherton Family FoundationSwayne Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, Cooke Foundation and Papa Ola Lokahi.