Hawaii becomes first state to raise legal smoking age to 21

Gov. David Ige of Hawaii signed into law Friday a bill that raises the age at which people in Hawaii can legally purchase, smoke or possess cigarettes and electronic cigarettes.

Although various local governments such as New York City have raised the legal smoking age in recent years, Hawaii is the first state to outlaw the sale and use of tobacco products to people under 21 years of age.

Proponents of the minimum smoking age of 21 argue that many 18-year-olds brains are still developing, potentially making it more difficult for teenagers to make informed decisions about the known dangers of tobacco use.

“The executive function, the portion of the brain which is capable of making certain types of decisions, is really not fully developed until actually over 21,” Cheryl G. Healton, dean of Global Public Health at New York University, told The New York Times in 2013.

People who begin smoking before age 21 face significantly stronger nicotine addiction, heavier daily tobacco consumption and more long-term neurological harm than those who begin after they turn 21, according to an Ohio State University study.

Needham, Massachusetts was the first town in the United States to raise the smoking age to 21. After the change was implemented in 2005, high school smoking rates decreased by more than 50 percent from 2006 to 2010. By 2008, the rate of illegal sales to minors in Needham was 79 percent lower than in Massachusetts as a whole.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 80 percent of adult cigarette smokers try their first cigarette before the age of 18.

Excluding those in Hawaii, there are currently 81 cities across the nation that have implemented an age-21 policy on tobacco products.

Hawaii’s new law will take effect Jan. 1, 2016.