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Honolulu Tattoo Expo fined $120K for using 12 unlicensed artists

Nina Wu
A screenshot from the Facebook page for the Tattoo Tour Expo in Honolulu last month.
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A screenshot from the Facebook page for the Tattoo Tour Expo in Honolulu last month.

The state Health Department has fined promoters of the Honolulu Tattoo Expo $120,000 for allowing 12 unlicensed tattoo artists to participate in its event.

The department said Erin N. Carillo and Thomas H. Hernandez, promoters of the event held on Jan. 24 and 25 at the Hawaii Convention Center, received the penalty for aiding and abetting the unlicensed artists.

On Jan. 24, state agents observed eight individuals, and on Jan. 25, four additional individuals, practice the art of tattooing at the expo without a valid state license.

“The complete disregard for public health rules placed the public at undue risk of contracting a bloodborne disease,” said Peter Oshiro, the department’s food safety branch program manager, in a news release. “They placed profits above public health. We hope this maximum fine sends a strong message to tattoo expo operators that only those persons with a valid Hawaii state tattoo artist license may practice the occupation of tattooing in Hawaii.”

Hernandez said he was caught off guard by the hefty fines, and felt there was a lack of communication from the health department.

He acknowledges that on-site state inspectors had issued citations to some unlicensed tattoo artists at the expo, but that as soon as he was informed of it, he responded accordingly by telling them to stop tattooing.

“Everybody that we asked to stop tattooing stopped tattooing,” said Hernandez by phone. “There were health inspectors during the entire event from beginning to end. None of the people got a second citation.”

Hernandez said his group, Tattoo Tour of Los Angeles, has organized more than 15 events, but that this was the first one in Hawaii. He said he plans to contest the penalty within 20 days.

“We also own a tattoo shop,” he said, “so we would never put the safety of people’s health above profits.”

Under state law, any person that practices the art of tattooing must have a valid Hawaii tattoo license that shows they are trained on the prevention of bloodborne diseases.

To obtain the license, applicants must first attend a bloodborne pathogen transmission prevention class approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and pass an exam to get a certificate. Several courses are available online for varying fees.

Applicants submit the certificate, along with a tuberculosis and syphilis report form and fee to get a state license.

The requirement, the department says, ensures tattoo artists have received formal course work in required aseptic techniques and practices to prevent the transmission of bloodborne diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B, tetanus, and others, when tattooing.

Under state law, the department may impose fines of up to $10,000 per violation, and has opted to issue the maximum amount, it said, “due to the expo operators’ open disregard for Hawaii laws designed to protect public health.”

The department emphasized that the Honolulu Tattoo Expo is not affiliated in any way with the annual Pacific Ink and Art Expo.

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