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HONOLULU -- The state legislature in Hawaii is turning its collective eye toward electronic cigarettes for both regulation and tax.
Lawmakers in the 50th state are currently debating a bill that would prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes, as well as impose the state's 70-percent tobacco tax on the products, according to the Hawaii Reporter.
Specifically, HB2557 and its companion bill SB2819 place e-cigarettes with other tobacco products as items prohibited to be sold to a minor and amend the definition of "tobacco products" for the purposes of taxation.
Testimony on both sides of the electronic cigarette issue favored a ban on the sale to minors; however, it was not so cut and dried when it came to the tobacco levy. The Senate Ways and Means Committee is slated to take up the measure again today.
"There is very little known about the long-term health effects of the use of e-cigarettes or the vapors given off. Recent studies have shown that within one liquid nicotine cartridge, there is enough nicotine to cause serious illness or even death," State Health Director Loretta Fuddy told members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
However, Cory Smith, president of local retailer Volcano Fine Electronic Cigarettes, said e-cigarettes help tobacco smokers quit and produce none of the second-hand smoke issues associated with traditional smokes, according to the report.
"The tobacco tax is aimed at deterring tobacco use and generating revenue to pay for healthcare costs associated with tobacco-related harms," Smith explained. "Since the research thus far indicates that e-cigarettes show promise as a means to deter tobacco use and thereby reduce the cost of tobacco-related harms, it makes no sense to subject e-cigarettes to the tobacco tax."
Smith also argued that the 70-percent tax would force him to close his business.
"The general cost of a fully functioning electronic cigarettes kit is upwards of $70," he testified. "Levying a 70-percent tax on all these items would virtually guarantee that purchasers will go out of state, or worse yet, return to tobacco cigarettes."
Others, though, still favor the tax. Those testifying in favor of the measure were the state Tax Department, Honolulu Police Department and several health organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii.
This debate is not staying within the state's borders, either. Nicolites, an England-based online e-cigarette retailer, voiced concern over the Hawaii proposal. Managing Director Nikhil Nathwani said approving the bill could have a negative impact on U.S. smokers determined to substitute real cigarettes for the tobacco-free alternatives.
"Charging ex-smokers more to use a product that is taking off phenomenally around the world is a step backward in our eyes," Nikhil said in a statement. "Electronic cigarettes and e-cigarette accessories don't contain any tobacco whatsoever and simply produce a warm vapor that mimics the sensation of smoking, so in our view, these products cannot be classified as the same as real cigarettes."