Politics & Government

Myrtle Beach officials rip SC bill limiting local control over vaping, tobacco

Myrtle Beach effectively bans smokes shops on Ocean Boulevard with zoning district

Myrtle Beach city council passed the 'Ocean Boulevard Entertainment District Overlay' today. The zoning law effective bans smoke shops a section of Ocean Boulevard as well as other items cancel deemed not 'family friendly.'
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Myrtle Beach city council passed the 'Ocean Boulevard Entertainment District Overlay' today. The zoning law effective bans smoke shops a section of Ocean Boulevard as well as other items cancel deemed not 'family friendly.'

A day after a similar proposal passed the S.C. House, Myrtle Beach officials told a state Senate panel that they oppose a Senate bill to ban local governments from passing more regulations on cigarettes and vaping products.

The bill, S. 492, would prevent any local rules governing tobacco, e-cigarette or alternative nicotine products, and stop cities or counties from creating their own tobacco-licensing rules.

The proposal would not restrict local smoking bans or stop localities from adding vaping to such bans. Rules on tobacco and vaping products enacted by cities and counties prior to Jan. 1, 2019 also would not be affected.

Last fall, Myrtle Beach City Council banned cannabis products, alternative nicotine, vapor products and e-cigarettes along a stretch of Ocean Boulevard. Now, city officials worry the proposed legislation could undo their efforts.

“The proliferation of these businesses negatively impacts our family-friendly image, which is our priority,” Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune told members of a Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee. “It impacts the investment the city is making in our downtown revitalization. It impacts our ability to attract the right investors and developers. ... And it impacts the type of clientele we attract.”

Bethune said the proposed bill would strip local government of “our ability to protect our community and our economy.”

Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock said an investigation revealed that edibles and other products found in some Ocean Boulevard shops tested positive for the psychoactive compound THC.

“From a law enforcement standpoint, it appears that the marketing is encouraging minors to consume from an unknown providence, with an unknown ingredients and an unknown toxicity,” Prock said, noting many of the products are unregulated.

However, the bill’s sponsor — state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley — said uniform tobacco and consumer product laws are needed statewide to protect retailers and consumers.

“It has always been the jurisdiction of the state of South Carolina to determine what is and what is not a health and safety issue,” Grooms said. “If there are problems with any of those products, the ban should be statewide.”

The Senate bill comes after the S.C. House passed a bill banning minors from entering vape shops without an adult in an effort to curb teen nicotine addiction.

Lobbyist Fred Allen told senators thath cigarette-maker Reynolds American Tobacco supports restricting youth access to tobacco and addictive nicotine products. Reynolds also supports a proposal to raise to 21 the minimum age statewide to buy tobacco products.

However, Reynolds opposes local laws, Allen said, adding it is “equally protective of our legal, adult consumers and retailers being able to choose products they have access to.”

A “hodge-podge” of local regulations would cost retailers business, create confusion and enforcement challenges, and cause a drop in the state’s tax revenue from tobacco, he argued.

Legislators said they were torn between protecting retailers, curbing the teen vaping epidemic and upholding home rule, which allows local elected officials to make decisions they feel are in the best interest of their communities.

“You in Myrtle Beach ... would know what ordinances you need to enact to help have a good quality of life in Myrtle Beach,” said state Sen. Kevin Johnson, D-Clarendon, a former mayor and city councilman. “(W)hat works in Myrtle Beach may not work in Manning.”

The Senate panel did not act on the bill, voting to hear more testimony.

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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.