by Lt. Governor Duke Aiona
Cigarette smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in the United States, and it is crucial that we stop teens in East Hawai`i from taking up the habit.
Since 80% of smokers start by the time they are age 18, prevention is the key. For that reason, it is troubling to see an overall increase this year in East Hawai`i stores that have been cited for illegally selling cigarettes to young people under age 18.
The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division of the state Department of Health released data showing there was a 19% citation rate among East Hawai`i stores in fiscal year 2008, which ended June 30. That figure is up from 11% in the same 12-month period that ended June 30, 2007.
And the overall rate for Big Island stores was 16.4%, statistically not much different from 2007. But that overall rate was higher than the state average, which stood at 12%.
By any measure, this is not a good sign for our efforts to stamp out teen smoking. It is also not acceptable. We need to see stores make a more dedicated effort to not sell cigarettes to minors.
Under state law, store clerks can be fined $500 for selling cigarettes to anyone under age 18. That fine could escalate to $2,000 if the law is violated more than once.
The good news is that there has been nearly a decade-long decline in teen smoking across the state. The latest national statistics show high school smoking statewide stood at about 12.8% – among the lowest rates in the nation. That is helped by our cigarette tax rate, $1.80 a pack, which is the sixth highest in the nation. And we have increased our spending on our anti-smoking efforts to about $10.6 million this year, up from $9.7 million a year earlier.
Approximately 88% of those funds come from the state’s share of a national settlement with the tobacco industry that is supposed cover the costs of anti-smoking programs aimed at deglamorizing teen smoking.
All told, we need East Hawai`i stores to rededicate themselves to closely working with the state to address tobacco use and exposure in the county, where our administration is committed to continuing efforts to protect the health of young people on the Big Island.