Honolulu Council bill advances age restrictions on herbal cigarettes

Feb. 3—The Honolulu City Council has advanced a bill to restrict youth from purchasing herbal cigarettes on Oahu.

If adopted, Bill 1 would raise the age to legally buy these nontobacco, non-

nicotine smoking products to 21 from 18.

The measure asserts that since herbal cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they are not subject to state laws that ban their sale to people under 21, nor are they subject to state laws that limit the ability of the city to regulate their sale.

Council member Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, who introduced the measure this year with Council member Matt Weyer, said Bill 1 gets city laws in line with the state.

"The minimum age of 18 for herbal cigarettes on Oahu was set by the City Council via Ordinance 00-60 in 2000," Dos Santos-Tam told the Honolulu Star-

Advertiser. "In the same year, (the city) also enacted a ban on 'bidi' cigarettes, which also remains on the books."

He added, "In order to protect our youth, the City Council is seeking to modify laws that regulate their sale and distribution to align with state statutes that regulate the sale of tobacco products."

In 2015 the state Legislature raised the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 from 18 via Act 122, he said.

"Non-tobacco products were not affected by Act 122, so Oahu's minimum age of 18 for herbal cigarettes has remained in place," he added.

Bill 1 would "align the

age for tobacco and non-

tobacco — or herbal cigarette purchases at 21 years — as the harms of herbal cigarettes for youths are similar to the harms of tobacco cigarettes," he said.

Ultimately, the Council voted unanimously Jan. 24 to pass Bill 1 on its first reading. Following its vote, a Council committee is expected to give the measure further review.

"We are in the process of setting the agenda but it is likely to be heard in the Housing, Sustainability and Health Committee," Dos

Santos-Tam said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, herbal cigarettes are vegetable-based cigarettes that manufacturers claim contain no tobacco

or nicotine.

Typically, these products are made of herbs or other plants such as lemongrass, damiana, ginseng, jasmine, catnip and mint. They might contain flavorings, too, such as cherry, chocolate or marshmallow. And herbal cigarettes are often sold in colorful packaging that display playful or innocuous symbols, including butterflies and leprechauns, the CDC states.

Herbal cigarette manufacturers — located in Asia,

Europe and North America — are part of a growing, multimillion-dollar industry as well.

According to market research company Technavio, the market size for the U.S.-based herbal cigarette industry is forecast to increase by nearly $377 million through 2027.

While herbal cigarettes do not contain tobacco or nicotine, which have links to cancer and heart disease, Bill 1 states that "researchers have concluded that they are at least as dangerous as conventional cigarettes."

"Research also suggests that the wide variety of herbal cigarettes may impact long-term health and safety, with some varieties presenting risks for metabolic disorders and others producing compounds similar to tobacco cigarettes when smoked," the measure reads.

The state Department of Health says it supports Bill 1.

"The definition of smoking in state law includes inhaling any lighted or heated

tobacco product or plant product including herbal cigarette products," Lola H. Irvin, DOH's Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division administrator, told the Star-Advertiser. "Herbal cigarettes may contain many of the same dangerous chemical mixtures in regular tobacco cigarettes, and are not regulated."

She added that DOH "wants our keiki to live long, full lives, free of the damaging effects of smoking."

"We agree and support the efforts of the Honolulu City Council to proactively protect the health of our youth to create smoke-free environments where they live, work, learn and play," she said.

Meantime, Bill 1 is the latest measure involving the sale of cigarettes to youth that the Council has floated in recent months.

In August, Weyer, along with City Council Chair Tommy Waters, introduced and then passed Bill 46.

Adopted by early October, that bill bans flavored tobacco products at the point of sale for minors but includes exemptions for specific tobacco-related products — namely hookahs, premium cigars and loose-leaf and shisha tobaccos.

But although Waters and Weyer sponsored the anti-

tobacco legislation, according to the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, both received contributions from local lobbyists with ties to major tobacco companies.

And those lobbyists

reportedly sought further exemptions within Bill 46.

In April 2022, Weyer

received a $500 political contribution from Ross

Yamasaki, a lobbyist who works for Altria Client Serv­ices LLC, connected to tobacco companies Philip Morris USA Inc., a leading cigarette manufacturer, and John Middleton Co., which manufactures cigars and pipe tobacco.

Similarly, in April 2022, Weyer received a $500 political contribution from Bruce A. Coppa, a lobbyist who works for Capitol Consultants of Hawaii LLC. According to the Campaign Spending Commission, from January 2021 to December 2022, Coppa and his firm represented Reynolds American Inc., the U.S. parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., American Snuff Co. and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co., among others.

Likewise, in March 2021, Waters received a $1,000 political contribution from Coppa's firm, while it still represented Reynolds American Inc., according to the commission.

For his part, Weyer asserted that his vote as an elected Council member was not for sale.

"No donor or contribution has influence over my vote, and introducing and supporting Bill 46 shows that," Weyer told the Star-

Advertiser in October. "When introduced by Chair Waters and myself, the bill contained no exemptions

for any flavored tobacco products."

He added that the inclusion of one ingredient to cigarettes — menthol, which, according to the CDC, is used to make the smoke from tobacco and nicotine cigarettes less harsh and easier to inhale — was not up for an exemption, either.