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Public health academician questions aspect of Hawaii tobacco law

January 18, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A researcher is questioning the notion that Hawaii's recent move to increase the minimum age for legal purchase of tobacco products should be considered a complete public health victory.

University at Buffalo community health professor Lynn Kozlowski argues in an Issues in Science and Technology article that state leaders should have distinguished in the new law between conventional cigarettes and what he sees as lower-risk smokeless tobacco and e-cigarette products. This mirrors the argument among manufacturers and some researchers that the federal government should acknowledge in regulation the differing levels of risk in products that contain nicotine.

Referring to conventional cigarettes, Kozlowski wrote, “The precautionary bias that treats all tobacco products the same obscures an opportunity to reduce the most dangerous form of tobacco use and its costs to society—costs that are increasingly borne by those who are already unhealthy, uneducated and poor.”

Hawaii has become the first state to increase the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21. Kozlowski believes that a minimum legal age for cigarettes in the 19-to-21 range would make sense if it existed alongside an 18 minimum for buying e-cigarettes and products such as snus smokeless tobacco.

“The need is to try to determine the benefits of pushing the age for cigarettes above that for products that are much less dangerous,” he wrote, in terms of whether differential purchase ages for various products might generate overall public health benefits.