Hawaii Makes History in Protecting Public Health

Hawaii lawmakers made history responding to state voters and youth through responsive legislation that protects public health. In April this year, the passage of legislation prohibited the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.

This makes Hawaii the first in the United States to raise the tobacco sale age from 18. By raising the age to 21, this gives way for greater potential to improve public health. This will help to reduce tobacco sales and even help to improve the efforts to prevent tobacco addiction. The onset of tobacco addiction often begins with young adults. Ninety-five percent of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 21. The passage of this legislation helps to address the targeting of tobacco companies to youth.

The Institute of Medicine released a report in March 2015 which concluded that raising the sale of tobacco to the age of 21 can yield significant improvements in public health. It reduces the number of adolescents and young adults who start smoking. Smoking related deaths are reduced. The health of adolescents, young adults, young mothers and children are improved deterring them from smoking.

This new norm for Hawaii has great potential for public health improvements. Consequently, as smoking rates can potentially decrease, such is the case with exposure to secondhand smoke. Among non-smokers, secondhand smoke exposure can cause heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke. Breathing in secondhand smoke has immediate harmful effects on the heart and blood vessels. Secondhand smoke caused 34,000 heart disease deaths during 2005-2009 among non-smokers in the United States. This changing shift in cultural norms in Hawaii gives way to preventing new smokers and decreasing exposure to secondhand smoke, which is helpful to improving public health especially when there is no risk-free exposure to secondhand smoke.