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Hawaii lawmakers push flavor bans and higher taxes to fight teen vaping

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Health and youth advocates say vaping by middle and high school students is a crisis ― and they are calling on lawmakers to ban all flavored vape and tobacco products.

While opponents say the problem is being exaggerated, teachers say they deal with it every day.

Lawmakers are expected to pass substantial legislation after a ban on flavored vape products passed last year but was vetoed because of flaws.

Meanwhile, teachers say kids struggling with nicotine addiction are disrupting classrooms.

Laverne Moore a special education teacher at McKinley High and has been lobbying for the teachers union, HSTA.

She’s particularly concerned about teen vaping after seeing kids who started vaping in middle school and high school struggling with their addictions.

“We have a true crisis in our high schools,” Moore said. “Addicts are very difficult they are not going to be able to hold a job; their attention is so short you don’t know when they are going to explode.”

Bills before lawmakers would tax vape products like tobacco is taxed (HB 537) and ban all flavored products (HB 551). In testimony, health officials said surveys show 31% of high school students are regular users.

But Lindsey Stroud, with the anti-regulation Consumer Center Taxpayers Protection Alliance, disputed that.

“This is all about the supposed youth vaping epidemic. There is no epidemic,” Stroud said.

She and other industry advocates say federal surveys show youth vaping is decreasing, but health officials say that data was skewed by the pandemic. Smoking freedom supporters also say a ban would be unfair to legal adult users trying to beat their smoking habits.

“There is data indicating that these products do help smokers quit smoking and that flavors are important for it,” Stroud said.

But Moore said adults can sacrifice the candy-like flavors.

“You can do without it for the sake of the children,” she said. “Do not allow it to be sold in our state period.”

Critics of a ban say it will just drive kids, and adults, to the unregulated black market, where products could be more dangerous.

The House Finance Committee is expected to approve the two bills Wednesday and send them to the full House, which is expected to move them to the Senate.

A number of other bills are also still alive.

But no matter what lawmakers do, there is no certainty that any solution can really wipe out teen vaping, given the extent of the problem and the difficultly of spotting the delivery devices.

Daryl Huff/Hawaii News Now

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