Hawaii Health Law Includes Last-Minute Provision Benefiting Big Tobacco; Legislature Must Repair Damage

Joint Statement by Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids; Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO, American Lung Association; Nancy Brown, CEO, American Heart Association
July 13, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Bill 1895, an otherwise well-meaning and worthy bill to fund needed kidney dialysis centers in the state, contains a last-minute provision, snuck into the bill behind closed doors by special interests without public discussion or review, that will greatly harm public health and help the tobacco industry. This provision would block (preempt) county governments in Hawaii from passing their own laws to reduce tobacco use, including measures addressing the sale of candy-flavored tobacco products and menthol cigarettes that attract kids.

It is truly outrageous that the tobacco industry worked in secret to include this damaging, last-minute provision in a bill aimed at improving public health and shows how far the industry is willing to go to preserve its profits at the expense of kids and lives. We are disappointed the legislature acquiesced to this damaging provision and urge them to revisit this legislation next year, remove the offending provision and tell Big Tobacco that protecting Hawaii’s kids comes first.

The special-interest tobacco industry provision was added at the last minute of the legislative session –with no time for public comment. It is a cruel irony that a bill devoted to improving public health now includes a provision that would do great harm to public health by preventing localities from combating the state’s No. 1 preventable cause of death – tobacco use. Localities should be able to determine their own tobacco policies and the legislature should oppose attempts to stifle these efforts to protect kids and save lives. Some 1,400 Hawaii residents die each year from smoking, and 21,000 kids alive today in Hawaii will die prematurely from smoking if nothing is done to reduce tobacco use.

While we applaud efforts to address the pressing health concern of kidney dialysis, the preemption provision in HB1895 will severely impede future progress to save more lives from tobacco use. Preemption measures have long been a favored tobacco industry tactic for blocking tobacco control efforts because the industry knows that localities have played a critical role in reducing tobacco use in Hawaii and across the nation. From smoke-free air regulations to raising the tobacco age to 21, Hawaii counties took the lead in passing local ordinances before the state took action. Across the country, more and more communities are restricting the sale of candy-flavored tobacco products that the industry uses to lure kids into a lifetime of addiction. By preventing local governments from taking necessary and bold moves to protect the health and safety of their communities from tobacco, HB1895 would keep Hawaii from being a leader in this critical area and could slow progress in reducing tobacco use.