Hawaii is on its way to becoming the first state in the nation to raise the legal smoking age to 21.
On Friday (April 24), the state legislation passed a bill that would make it illegal for teens to buy, smoke or possess both traditional and electronic cigarettes. The punishment for breaking the rules would start at a $10 fine for the first offense, and further offenses would lead to larger fines and community service.
"It's definitely groundbreaking legislation," said Jessica Yamauchi, executive director of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii, which pushed for the bill. "It's amazing to be the first state in something. That's very exciting for us."
The bill will next be handed off to Hawaiian Governor David Ige, who will review it before he decides whether or not to sign it into law.
Proponents of the bill say it will help reduce smoking among young people. According to the state's Department of Health, 5,600 minors in Hawaii try smoking each year, 90 percent of daily smokers take up the habit before age 19, and 1,400 people die from smoking-related causes in Hawaii every year.
"Today we have the opportunity to change the paradigm," said Democratic state Sen. Rosalyn Baker.
Opponents to the bill claim that because people are deemed adults at age 18, they should be able to make their own choices about smoking.
Democratic Sen. Gil Riviere, who voted against the bill, remarked, "You can sign contracts, you can get married, you can go to war and lose an arm or lose an eye...you come back and you're 20 years old and you can't have a cigarette."
Some U.S. cities, including New York City, have already made it illegal for people under age 21 to buy cigarettes. However, the groundbreaking law would make Hawaii the first state to do so, and could set a precedent for others to do the same.