Push for tighter vaping restrictions fails in Hawaii

Hawaii lawmakers on Thursday killed a proposal that would have banned flavored electronic smoking devices and e-liquids, saying they suspected teenagers would continue to get the products online even if sales were prohibited.

Supporters said the bill was needed to fight an alarming surge in teenage vaping. Hawaii would have been the first state in the nation to impose such a ban if it was enacted.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, said it's a "really tough issue" and members understood the need to curb teenage vaping. But the committee deferred the bill, which means the measure won't meet a Friday deadline to move to the full House during the current legislative session.

The committee passed another bill that would raise fines for underage possession of e-cigarettes and raise taxes on e-cigarettes and e-liquids.

Rep. Chris Todd said he thought his colleagues would support a flavor ban if they had hard evidence it would be effective. He said to consider the measure again next year, lawmakers would need data on where people get their electronic cigarette products, be it online or from local retailers.

Rep. Scot Matayoshi said raising fines will help deter underage smoking. But he hopes lawmakers find a way to impose a flavor ban next year.

"I don't feel like that the rights of adults to smoke flavored e-cig liquid outweighs our obligation to protect kids from getting addicted to a substance that's made to be addicting," Matayoshi said.

A 2017 Hawaii Health Department study found 16 percent of middle schoolers and 26 percent of high school students were current users of e-cigarettes. The number of high school students experimenting with vaping jumped four-fold between 2011 and 2015, the study said.

The National Youth Tobacco Survey found youth vaping surged 78 percent between 2017 and 2018 across the U.S.