Health advocates speak out against SC bill that reduces local communities’ power to enact tobacco legislation

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – A bill making its way through the State House and Senate would ban local municipalities from enacting laws that health advocates say are crucial to curb smoking.

If passed, the bill would prohibit county, town, and city governments from enacting laws or ordinances that pertain to the ingredients, flavors, or licensing of cigarettes, electronic smoking devises, e-liquid, vapor products, and nicotine products.

South Carolina Senator Marlon Kimpson opposes the bill.

“We are inviting big government into our local towns so that big government can tell the local government and local towns how best to protect their citizens,” said Kimpson.

Kimpson objected the bill in 2019, stopping it from becoming law. He said laws regarding tobacco should not be one-size-fits-all.

“Myrtle Beach may observe something different with what is going on in Greenville County,” said Kimpson. “They ought to have the ability to act, but the big tobacco lobby has been fighting to take away the power from local governments because it impacts their business, it’s a simple as that,” he added.

Lowcountry Senator Larry Grooms is a co-sponsor of the bill. He said state laws streamline legislation.

“The laws of our state ought to be uniform and not piecemeal,” he said.

Grooms represents an area that is divided into several municipalities including Berkeley County, the City of North Charleston, and Hanahan.

He said consistency is necessary for tobacco and e-cigarette manufacturers, store owners, and customers.

“Having five different laws regarding the manufacturer or what can be inside a product within a five mile ring, it doesn’t make any sense,” Grooms said.

Grooms said the bill would not prohibit local communities from banning a product all together.

“If a municipality wants to ban a product it can, but a municipality is not in the business of determining what should be in a product,” he said. “I don’t think a municipality should say whether a certain flavoring should be in tobacco or not” he continued.

Dr. Elizabeth Mack is the director of MUSC’s Division of Pediatric Critical Care. She said legislation regarding flavors and ingredients is paramount to preventing youth smoking.

“Flavors are really of concern. They are marketed directly to kids and to minorities and this is a major child health concern,” Mack said. “These bills prevent us from being able to regulate them at a local level,” she said.

Beth Johnson with the American Cancer Society agrees.

“We are only making it easier for them to market to our children and that just infuriates me,” she said.

Johnson said said local communities are ahead of the state in creating legislation to curb tobacco use.

“All of that work, I don’t want to say its null and void because it’s not now, but if this law passes it very well could be” she said.

The Senate bill is in the Committee of Medical Affairs. The House bill is currently in the Committee on Judiciary. Lowcountry senators Shane Massey, Margie Bright Matthews, and Larry Grooms are co-sponsors of the bill.

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