Over the weekend, a coalition of public health groups ran full-page ads in The Post and Courier and other SC newspapers warning of an attempt by the state Senate to deprive cities and counties of their right to do a job that the Legislative Assembly refuses to do: regulating the efforts of tobacco companies to make teenagers addicted to drugs.
The American Cancer Society, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and American Lung and Heart groups fear the Senate will use the confusion of the final days of the legislative session to pass H.3681, which would ban local governments from regulating cigarettes , vape, or other tobacco flavors or ingredients, and prevent those governments from requiring local licenses to sell tobacco products.
At first glance, the bill seems long dead. Although the House passed it in 2021 and the Senate pulled it from committee without even a public hearing, it has been stuck on the disputed Senate schedule for more than a year. This is normally a sure sign of a bill going nowhere without a compromise to which all parties adhere. Normally, but not always.
Public health officials fear the bill could suddenly be resurrected and passed into law this week. It might sound paranoid, but it’s actually quite common for lawmakers to wait until the end of the session to try to squeeze through legislation they know the public would oppose. Activists say they hear too much buzz about H.3681 to ignore. (And yes, we realize it’s popular for special interest groups to pretend to be attacked when they really aren’t for the purpose of raising money, but tobacco advocates aren’t trying to raise money. funds; they have been in the Statehouse furiously working the Senate to prevent the legislation from being brought back to life.)
So while we hope that any effort to push the legislation through Governor Henry McMaster’s desk will fail – and if not, he will veto it – it’s worth taking the time to explain what H.3681 is.
His supporters say they want to make sure tobacco laws are uniform across the state, but in fact they have fought efforts to have a uniform statewide law that would help make enforce the law that prohibits the use of tobacco by minors. H.3754 would treat tobacco sales more like alcohol sales, requiring companies to obtain a license to sell the products – and allowing the state to revoke those licenses if they fail to guard against selling tobacco to minors. This is important because, according to the American Heart Association, three quarters of children who try to buy tobacco products are successful.
Tobacco companies have kept the tobacco licensing bill locked up in subcommittee for two years because uniform tobacco laws are not their goal. Their goal is to ensure that nothing is done in South Carolina to reduce sales of tobacco products – even products that are deliberately manipulated to entice children into using them.
South Carolina has one of the highest rates of teenage nicotine use in the country, and vaping has led to an increase in youth tobacco use nationwide. The CDC says nearly all high school students who use tobacco products use flavored products, which is why some local governments want to ban the sale of these products.
Editorial: Vaping nicotine probably won’t kill you right away. In the long term, who knows?
The vaping preemption bill is also the latest in a long line of bills aimed at stripping elected members of city and county councils of the right to govern their communities. Such bills start with a nudge at the Statehouse, regardless of the underlying topic, because too many lawmakers think they know more about what should be happening in local communities than the people elected to govern these communities.
Either the assault on local governments or the assault on public health would be reason enough to let this legislation die when the Legislative Assembly adjourns on Thursday. The combination of the two makes it almost criminal for anyone to seriously consider pushing him into the law.