E-Cigarette kit retails for $74.99 (courtesy volcanoecigs.com/)

BY JIM DOOLEY – A bill that would ban the sale of smokeless electronic cigarettes to minors and impose the 70% tobacco tax on the devices was briskly debated at the state Legislature today.

E-Cigarette kit retails for $74.99 (courtesy volcanoecigs.com/)

All of the testimony favored a ban on sale of the products to minors but more than 1,000 individuals and companies protested imposition of the tobacco tax on “e-cigarettes”.

The devices deliver vaporized nicotine mist to users but contain no tobacco and generate none of the carcinogenic smoke generated by a burning cigarette, proponents said.

State Health Department Director Loretta Fuddy told members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, “There is very little known about the long term health effects of the use of e-cigarettes or the vapors given off. Recent studies have shown that within one liquid nicotine cartridge there is enough nicotine to cause serious illness or even death.”

Cory Smith, president of local retailer Volcano Fine Electronic Cigarettes, said the product actually helps tobacco smokers quit their habits and produces none of the second-hand smoke issues associated with traditional tobacco cigarettes.

“The tohacco tax is aimed at  deterring tobacco use and  generating revenue to pay for health care costs associated with tobacco-related harms,” Smith said.

“Since the research thus far indicates that e-cigarettes show promise as a means to  deter tobacco use and thereby reduce the cost of  tobacco-related harms, it makes no sense to subject e-cigarettes to the tobacco tax,” Smith said.

Taxing e-cigarettes at the 70% tobacco rate would shut down his business and drive customers to the internet to obtain the devices from out-of-state sources, he said.

“The general cost of a fully-functioning electronic cigarette kit is upwards of  $70,” Smith testified. “Levying a 70’% tax on all of these items would virtually guarantee that purchasers will go out of state, or, worse yet, return to tobacco cigarettes.”

But Health Director Fuddy said more scientific study must be undertaken of e-cigarettes.

“We don’t feel that from a Department of Health perspective that the science is really in yet. This is a rather new product,” she said.

Also testifying in favor of the measure were the state Tax Department, Honolulu Police Department and various health organizations including the American Cancer Society and the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii.

Coalition executive director Deborah Zsyman told the committee that some sales of e-cigarettes appear aimed at under-aged customers.

“Often the cartridges are candy flavored, making them enticing to youth.   Currently, they are readily available at mall kiosks and small shops throughout our state and are priced as low as $10 for the disposable varieties,” said Zsyman.

The coalition’s concerns about e-cigarettes center on sales to minors and on the lack of scientific evidence on the health effects of the devices.

“I think if we find there’s evidence that this is really a product that is safe and  does help people quit smoking, then, yes, we’d be supportive of it,” she said.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com