A new law signed by Gov. Nikki Haley this month bans minors from buying a tobacco substitute known as electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes.”
E-cigarettes are increasing in popularity, especially amongst smokers trying to kick their habit. They resemble traditional cigarettes, but work by vaporizing a liquid mixed with nicotine. Water vapor is released from the end of the device, like smoke from cigarettes, and the nicotine is inhaled.
Because the products do not contain tobacco, they were not previously covered by state laws barring minors from purchasing cigarettes.
House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister (R-Greenville) said he pushed for the change at the request of several e-cigarette manufacturers that we concerned the old law created a loophole for teens.
“E-cigarettes have basically the same drug in them as cigarettes,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “If you were a kid at 14, you could buy the e-cigarettes and the cartridges which contain nicotine. There’s no age restriction like there is on cigarettes.”
Bannister said he’s not aware of teens using the products, but wanted to act before the loophole became common knowledge. The ban passed the South Carolina House 99-0 and the Senate 42-2.
However, the South Carolina Tobacco Collaborative opposed the law. Executive Director Louis Eubanks said an outright ban is one of the least effective ways to prevent teen smoking.
“We should be using the funds we do have for tobacco work to fund (phone) quit-lines, to keep people from starting to smoke in high school and college through youth tobacco prevention programs,” he said. “We should also make sure that we’re adequately funding future programs at the state level.”
Bannister did not dispute the group’s characterization, but believes a ban was still needed. “It at least puts up a small roadblock,” he said.
The law adds “alternative nicotine products” to list of items that minors cannot purchase under South Carolina’s tobacco laws. Minors in possession of tobacco products face a civil fine, or they can choose to complete a tobacco education class instead. A business that makes the illegal sale faces up to a $400 fine for repeat offenses.
There is also an ongoing debate in the Statehouse over how to tax the devices, although no action can happen until next year. E-cigarettes are not currently subject to South Carolina’s 50-cent cigarette tax. Some lawmakers say they should be, while others say they should be exempt because they do not contain tobacco. Others want a lower tax as an additional incentive for smokers who are using e-cigs to quit.