Bill would block local laws on e-cigarettes, vapes from being enforced in SC

A bill advancing at the State House would ban South Carolina cities and counties from enacting their own local restrictions on e-cigarette and vape sales.
Published: Feb. 20, 2023 at 5:04 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 20, 2023 at 10:58 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A bill advancing at the State House would ban South Carolina cities and counties from enacting their own local restrictions on e-cigarette and vape sales.

S.414 would make it illegal for local governments to enforce local rules on cigarette, e-cigarette, vape, and other tobacco and nicotine product sales, including banning products with certain flavors or ingredients from being sold within a city or county.

The legislation now awaits a debate on the Senate floor after the Medical Affairs Committee voted to advance it last week.

“I think we need to provide some consistency to the folks that are selling it, or if these products are bad, then they need to be banned statewide,” Sen. Shane Martin, R – Spartanburg, said.

Local laws and ordinances put in place before 2021 would be grandfathered in under this bill.

It also would not prevent cities and counties from enacting no-smoking areas or zoning ordinances to ban smoke or vape sales in certain places, like close to schools.

“[If] It’s a legal product and they ban the sale of it in their locality, I worry that we give children an incentive, ‘Well, man, this must be the stuff to have because they banned it,’” Martin said.

Others noted the bill would take away local governments’ authorities to create and enforce their own local rules.

“It is an infringement on home rule, versus you’ve got the idea that commerce in South Carolina ought to be uniform,” Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D – Orangeburg, said.

Since 2019, federal law has barred selling tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone younger than 21, though South Carolina law has not yet been updated to reflect this.

Senators of both parties pledged to do more to prevent these products from getting in the hands of kids and teens, saying current law isn’t strong enough.

“If it is a statewide health issue, which I think a good argument can be made that it is, it’s incumbent on us to act,” Sen. Tom Davis, R – Beaufort, said.

“There are other bills coming that will address how facilities that sell these products to young people should be punished, or should they have their right to sell nicotine products at all taken away from them, kind of like we do with beer,” Hutto said.

Republican Sen. Sandy Senn of Charleston said she plans to block debate on this bill until those other bills are also brought to the Senate floor, so they can be discussed at the same time.

Senate rules allow any single senator to do this, though if there are enough votes, they can overcome that block.

“If we are going to be passing statewide legislation, shouldn’t we kind of run those two together? I don’t like the cart getting before the horse,” Senn said.

Bills very similar to this one have been proposed in previous years at the State House, but none became law.

The American Cancer Society is among its opponents, saying this proposal would threaten the health of South Carolina’s children.

“Over a quarter of South Carolina high school students use tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. We should be strengthening our freedom to protect our children, not giving Big Tobacco the power to come into our towns and wreak havoc,” the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said in part in a statement. “South Carolinians have long valued freedom and liberty. We urge the Senate to not waiver to a special interest group like Big Tobacco and protect our freedom to protect our families and children by preserving our right to make local decisions.”