On April 24, lawmakers in Hawaii passed a bill that could set the state's legal smoking age to 21. Hawaii would then become the first state in the country to do so.

The bill – which was passed by the Hawaii Senate with a vote of 19-4, after clearing the House in the previous week –would also lead to a ban on the purchase, sale and usage of electronic cigarettes for consumers under 21.

"The activities we've engaged in over the years to manage smoking, our additional efforts in education, the raising of cigarette taxes, this is a continuation of those policies," said Senator Rosalyn Baker, a Democrat and one of the sponsors of the bill.

According to Baker, the opponents of the bill are arguing that it would limit the choices of people already considered adults by other legal measures — which she dismissed, explaining that "giving someone the choice to have lung cancer is not a good choice." 

The next stop for the bill is the desk of Governor David Ige, who will review and decide whether to approve it. According to Jodi Leong, a spokeswoman for the governor, the decision can be expected to be made next week.

Most of the states in the country have a legal smoking age of 18 years old, with a handful of states setting it a year higher to 19. Some counties and cities, such as Hawaii County and New York City, have already increased the legal smoking age to 21 years old. However, no entire state has done so yet, and it seems that Hawaii is well on its way to becoming the first.

Over the last few months, lawmakers in California and Washington state have also been pushing to raise the smoking age to 21.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, tobacco causes 1,400 deaths and leads to $526 million in medical costs each year in Hawaii. The advocacy group also said that around 95 percent of smoking adults were younger than 21 when they began the habit.

Smoking cigarettes is the top cause of preventable death in the United States, with over 480,000 people succumbing to smoking-related complications a year. That is equivalent to one out of every five deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers have found that increasing the required age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 or even 25 years old could significantly decrease smoking-related diseases. Additionally, more than two thirds of the adults in the country support the idea of increasing the legal smoking age to 21 years old, according to a 2013 survey.

Photo: Shannon Holman | Flickr

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