A bill currently making its way through the Hawaii House of Representatives is seeking to close a loophole that 13 legislators see as allowing people–particularly minors–to circumvent the state’s current tobacco taxes and laws by purchasing such products online.
H.B. 1495 seeks to “to correct a loophole in Hawaii law regarding age verification, taxation, and public health goals by prohibiting the shipment of certain tobacco products purchased through the Internet or by mail order to anyone other than licensed wholesalers or retailers.” Effectively, it bans people in Hawaii from purchasing tobacco products, e-cigarettes and other alternative nicotine delivery devices via the Internet, mail or phone order.
As introduced, any manufacturer, wholesaler, dealer, retailer, or other person or entity who knowingly violates the law should it be passed would be guilty of a class C felony, which carries a maximum fine of $5,000 per violation.
Both the Hawaii Cigar Association and the Cigar Association of America have come out in opposition of the bill and are working to defeat it.
Hawaii has some of the strictest tobacco laws in the country; it was the first state in the country to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, and remains one of just two states in the country along with California to have passed such an increase. It also currently imposes a tax of 50% of the wholesale price on cigars and other tobacco products, and the state legislature is considering an increase to 70%, as well as a possible cap of 50 cents per cigar on the tax.
On Tuesday, the House Committee on Health voted 6-0 to recommend the bill be passed with amendments, though those have not been published to the legislature’s website. The bill has also been referred to the House Committee on Consumer Protection & Commerce.
The ban would go into effect on July 1, 2017 should it pass.