Maui youths speak out at meeting in support of secondhand smoking bill


On Jan. 4, the Maui County Council’s Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee unanimously recommended approval of a bill that would prohibit smoking in vehicles when minors under the age of 18 are present.

The initiative started when the Maui Nui Youth Council, youths from Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. and the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii announced their 2017 priority was to protect children from secondhand smoke exposure in vehicles.

All three other counties in the state have already passed similar measures targeting the dangers of secondhand smoke in vehicles. Local governments in 20 other states have also enacted similar legislation.

The Hawaii Department of Health reports that exposure to secondhand smoke can cause ear infections, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory symptoms (e.g., coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath), respiratory infections (e.g., bronchitis, pneumonia) and a greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome.

Therefore, after much research and collaboration with the community, I felt it was the council’s responsibility to address the needs of our youths by protecting the keiki in our county from unwarranted exposure to secondhand smoke.

Nearly one-third of high school students in Hawaii report they have experienced exposure to secondhand smoke, sometimes from adults, but also at times from their peers.

Despite this reality, a group of 38 dedicated youths spoke in support of the bill at the meeting, and shared the realities they face when it comes to smoking.

Their participation provided valuable information, and I would like to personally thank each of the youths brave enough to speak candidly about the importance of this law and the impact it would have on creating a healthy future.

The message from testifiers was clear to the committee members, and led to a unanimous vote to support the legislation. I encourage all our youths to get involved and participate in the political process.

Smoking rates have been on the decline nationwide and Hawaii has continued to be a leader in cessation programs. In fact, our state has been named one of the Top 5 healthiest states in the nation since 2003, according to a 2016 United Health Foundation report.

Enacting this ban would make Hawaii the first state in the country to unanimously ban smoking in vehicles in the presence of minors. This milestone is a suiting symbol of Hawaii as a leader in public health.

To unify the counties’ initiative, I will also be proposing a bill to the state Legislature to institute a comprehensive ban on smoking in vehicles with a minor present.

If the county-level bill passes and is signed into law, any adult smoking traditional cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or electronic cigarettes in a vehicle with a minor present would be subject to a $200 fine, which is four to eight times the fine of other smoking violations.

First reading of this bill at the council is scheduled for Friday, and I encourage public testimony either in-person or by email at

I also strongly encourage you to contact your representatives and senators to support my statewide proposal. This is an appropriate and much needed next step to ensure a safe and healthy future for our youngsters.

I wish each of you a Happy New Year, and I look forward to working with you in 2018!

* Yuki Lei Sugimura is the chairwoman of the Maui County Council’s Policy, Economic Development, and Agriculture Committee. She holds the council seat for the Upcountry residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters.