HONOLULU — Each New Year's Day, smokers across the country are used to digging a little deeper into their wallets as cigarette excise taxes typically go up as the ball goes down. Jan. 1, 2016, however, will see smokers and other tobacco users in Hawaii digging in their wallets for something else — their IDs.
With a stroke of his pen on June 19 of this year, Hawaii Gov. David Ige set the last state in the union on a course to be the first state to increase the legal age to buy tobacco to 21. The legislation prohibits the sale, purchase, possession or consumption of cigarettes, other tobacco products and electronic smoking devices to anyone under 21.
The law takes effect Jan. 1, giving retailers in the Aloha State roughly six months to get their "tobacco house" in order, so to speak.
One such retailer prepping for the change is Honolulu-based Aloha Petroleum Ltd., where training of sales associates and managers is a key focus, Gary Altman, general manager of company-operated stores for Aloha Petroleum, told CSNews Online.
"Beginning Jan. 1, 2016, customers under the age of 21 who have been purchasing tobacco products from us since they turned 18 will no longer be able to do so. How this is communicated and handled by our sales associates is crucial, as we don't want to lose those customers' business for non-tobacco items they purchase on a regular basis," Altman said. "The key will be enforcing the new law while retaining the customers' loyalty."
Although the state has yet to provide any training materials or signage, Aloha Petroleum anticipates that it will provide signage as the law comes into effect, according to Altman. Signs will play an important role when it comes to informing tobacco consumers about the switch. He believes the six-month lead time has been "reasonable" from a retailer standpoint, but he is not sure the average consumer is aware of the change.
While the tobacco category has been declining somewhat over the last few years, it is still an important part of Aloha Petroleum's business and contributes more than 30 percent of in-store sales, Altman said, adding that many of the customers who purchase tobacco make other purchases in the store and visit its locations regularly. What effect, if any, the increase in the legal buying age has on those sales remains to be seen.
"We expect to see some sales decline in the tobacco category when the new law takes effect. The unknown for us at this point is whether it will impact other categories within the store," he explained. "Will that 18- to 20-year-old consumer who currently makes legal tobacco purchases return to our store for the other in-store purchases they are currently buying from us, or will this change their shopping habits?"
Aloha Petroleum is a subsidiary of Sunoco LP. The company markets via approximately 100 Shell, Aloha, and Mahalo branded fuel stations throughout the state, about half of which are company operated.
For more on the movement across the United States to increase the legal buying age for tobacco products, look in the September issue of Convenience Store News.