Bill would crack down on nicotine product sales to minors in S.C.

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Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 7:27 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A bill filed at the South Carolina State House would crack down on stores that illegally sell tobacco and nicotine products to kids and teens.

Supporters of the legislation say it would impose similar restrictions to keep tobacco away from minors as the state already does for alcohol.

“[Stores are] out there doing this because kids are getting cigarettes, they’re getting the vape products, and this is an attempt to stop it,” Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D – Orangeburg, and the bill’s lead sponsor, said during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing Thursday on the bill, S.514.

The first step this bill would take is banning minors from even entering stores that primarily sell tobacco and nicotine products, like smoke and vape shops.

This bill would not prohibit children from going into stores that sell tobacco and nicotine products but primarily sell other items, like grocery stores.

“If someone pulls up in front of one and they’ve got a two-year-old child in the car, they’ve got to leave that child in the car to walk in the store?” Sen. Rex Rice, R – Pickens, asked.

“I understand, but isn’t that sort of the same principle as going into a liquor store with your child in the car?” Hutto answered.

“I don’t know,” Rice responded. “I’ve never taken my child to the liquor store”.

“That’s because I don’t think you can,” Hutto said with a laugh.

The bill removes some of the current penalties for minors who illegally purchase these products, such as having their driving privileges restricted, but they could still face a $25 fine and court order to complete a tobacco-prevention program.

A representative for South Carolina’s convenience stores said they are on board with working to stop illegal sales to minors but aren’t totally on board with this bill.

“It looks to me like we’re taking the penalties away from the minor,” SC Convenience & Petroleum Marketers Association Executive Director Michael Fields told senators. “Current law says that the minor can’t purchase, attempt to purchase, possess, attempt to possess those products, and we’re deleting those.”

Hutto responded that minors cannot make legal decisions, like entering contracts, so the burden to stop these sales needs to be on the adults making them.

“Kids are going to ask. They ask for a lot of stuff, and they might ask for cigarettes,” he said. “It’s your employees on the other side of the counter, in my estimation, are the ones who are the adults in the room who need to say no”.

The biggest changes this bill would make are designed to crack down on those illegally selling.

It would create a new tobacco retail sales license and require stores that sell tobacco and nicotine products, including vape and e-cigarette products, have one. According to the CDC, South Carolina is one of 10 states that do not have such a license requirement currently in effect.

The state Department of Revenue, which would regulate these licenses, would make at least one unannounced visit annually to all of those retailers.

This bill also increases the penalties for retailers caught illegally selling to minors, including suspending their license for a week after two offenses within a three-year period.

If a retailer is in violation four or more times within a three-year period, they would face a minimum $1,200 fine and would not be allowed to sell tobacco and nicotine products for three years.

“I’m not going to tolerate adults giving nicotine to children, even if the kids sneak on a beard and pretend to be 84 and come in with a cane and say, ‘Please sell me some cigarettes’. You’ve got to ID those children just like you’ve got to do with alcohol and don’t sell it to them,” Hutto said.

The Senate subcommittee opted to carry this bill over Thursday — meaning they will wait to vote on advancing it to the committee level until a later meeting — to give the convenience stores some time to propose changes that might ease their concerns about the bill.

Another bill awaiting a debate in the Senate would prohibit local governments from enacting local rules to restrict the sale of nicotine products within their jurisdictions.

“I’m worried that we’re going to have some movement on the floor with that other bill,” Sen. Sandy Senn, R – Charleston, said. “And I’ve repeatedly asked that we wait for this bill”.

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