Politics & Government

SC lawmakers moving quickly on plan to keep teens from vaping

The Vapor Girl’s owner shows how e-cigarettes work

Victoria Sylvestre, co-owner of The Vapor Girl, explains how electronic cigarettes create vapor. Sylvestre and her husband Marc own five vapor shops in the Triangle area. Video by Virginia Bridges/ vbridges@newsobserver.com
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Victoria Sylvestre, co-owner of The Vapor Girl, explains how electronic cigarettes create vapor. Sylvestre and her husband Marc own five vapor shops in the Triangle area. Video by Virginia Bridges/ vbridges@newsobserver.com

A proposal to make it harder for S.C. teenagers to get their hands on e-cigarettes has been sent to the S.C. House for a vote.

The bill aims to address what public health groups describe as an “epidemic” in which vaping products, originally designed to help adults quit smoking cigarettes, are introducing a new generation of teenagers to addictive nicotine.

The S.C. House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the proposal Tuesday, making it one of the first bills to hit the House floor this year.

“This is really focusing on the health and well being of our children,” said state Rep. Beth Bernstein, the Richland Democrat who filed the bill.

If passed, the new law would affect more than 400 brands of e-cigarettes that come in at least 7,000 flavors, including cherry, fruit punch and bubblegum. A lobbyist for Juul, the most popular e-cigarette brand, said the San Francisco-based company supports the bill as a good-faith effort to curb teenage use of nicotine products.

But vaping advocates also defended their products, which, they say, have helped adult chain smokers quit more harmful cigarettes.

“I have teenage children. Teenagers are going to do what they’re going to do,” said Allison Atwell, owner of ECIG Charleston, the state’s largest vaping retailer. “It’s up to parents to make sure they’re instilled with the right values. I don’t think any law is going to keep that stuff away from them. They’re teenagers, so their whole objective is to get what they want and figure it out.”

Bernstein’s bill, H. 3420, must pass the House and state Senate to become law. It would ban vaping on public school property and make it illegal for anyone under 18 years old to enter a S.C. vape shop without an adult. It also would require age verification for anyone trying to buy e-cigarettes online, either during the purchase or during its delivery.

The bill has the support of public health groups concerned by the sharp uptick in teenage vaping. They told lawmakers e-cigarettes include dozens of dangerous chemicals and toxic metals in addition to nicotine.

One in five high school students uses e-cigarettes, even though that is illegal for anyone younger than 18, according to Maggie Cash, executive director of the S.C. Children’s Hospital Collaborative.

Cash testified in a House Judiciary subcommittee earlier this month that use of e-cigarettes by high school students jumped 78 percent over the past year. Research has found two-thirds of teens don’t realize e-cigarettes contain harmful nicotine, she said.

A representative of the American Cancer Society agreed, calling teen vaping an epidemic.

“We see it as marketing directly to our youth,” said Beth Johnson, S.C. government relations director for the group. “We want to see something done.”

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He is currently filling in as an editor of The State’s award-winning State House team. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.


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