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Residents weigh in on Senate’s electronic cigarette bill

March 12, 2014 - 9:01am

Oahu resident Daniel Sherlock said he’s never smoked cigarettes, but his wife has been a smoker since she was a teenager.

She only recently quit, he said, thanks to the help of electronic cigarettes.

“It was the best thing ever. And she can be smoking in the car with the thing and it has no odor to it,” he said.

That’s one reason why Sherlock is voicing his concern about a proposed bill aimed to regulate and tax electronic smoking devices throughout the state.

The measure, Senate Bill 2495, proposes to change the law surrounding the sale and use of the cigarette alternatives by requiring retailers of electronic smoking devices to obtain a license from the department of health; it would limit the retail sale of the products to retailers who also have a retail tobacco permit; use revenue from the sale of the devices to support smoking cessation programs in the state; amend Hawaii’s antismoking statute to prohibit the use of the devices in public places and places of employment; and restrict the sale, distribution and display of the products in a manner similar to tobacco.

Sherlock was among several residents who provided testimony on the bill.

While doctors, politicians and health-related organizations are commending its efforts to promote the health of Hawaii residents, others say parts of the bill go too far.

Cory Smith, chief executive officer for VOLCANO Fine Electronic Cigarettes, said he is worried, if passed, the legislation would negatively affect him and his 100 full-time employees.

“Honestly, it would put us out of business. I’m hoping to make that point (today),” he said.

The state House Health Committee was slated to review the bill at 8:30 a.m. today. Smith said he plans to publicly express his concerns during the hearing.

“We’re opposed to it. It’s a pretty big bill and attempts to do a lot of things,” he said. “Namely, it tries to lump electronic cigarettes and vaporizers to a completely different product, tobacco… We embrace regulation of our industry. We don’t embrace the state lumping it into a framework that wasn’t built for our product.”

Sen. Josh Green, chairman of the Health Committee, is a proponent of the legislation. He said the bill would do more to protect the state’s youth from being influenced by tobacco or tobacco-related products.

The bill sites findings from the National Tobacco Survey that indicate the growing popularity of electronic smoking devices among youth, with 1,800,000 middle and high school students stating they tried the products in 2012.

“Right now, the goal is to kind of take a responsible approach to electronic cigarettes and bring them in line with the approach to cigarette smoking without ruining some of their potential for smoking cessation,” he said. “Nicotine is harmful to the body; therefore, it’s necessary to regulate these devices.”

Green said he recently was near someone using a vaporizer and the byproduct was blown directly in his face.

“If you’re impacting someone else’s space, then you have to be respectful of that,” he said.

The legislation would amend the definition of “smoke” or “smoking” to “inhaling, exhaling, burning, or carrying any lighted or heated tobacco product or plant product intended for inhalation in any manner or in any form. ‘ Smoking’ includes the use of an electronic smoking device.”

Debra Okamoto, Christopher Okamoto and Jackie Czapla, all of Kapolei, Oahu, who submitted testimony against the bill, argue the bill takes a “guilt by association mentality,” and wrote, “‘Vaping’ is not ‘smoking.’ There is no substance burning. There is no offensive smoke.”

If passed, the license and permit requirements for wholesalers, dealers and retailers of electronic smoking devices and excise tax would be effective January 2015.

Email Megan Moseley at