These days I am getting asked what is the situation in our state for buying tobacco products, especially traditional cigarettes, little cigars, and e-cigarettes. Why is this?
On December 20, 2019, the Federal government declared that in the United States an individual must be at least 21 years of age to buy any tobacco products (including electronic nicotine delivery systems and nicotine-containing vape juice). However, our South Carolina Constitution still states that the age of legal purchase is at least 18 years of age. What gives?
The York County Alcohol and Drug Enforcement Unit performs compliance checks throughout our county on a regular basis, mainly focused on alcohol sales to minors (under age 18 years), but periodically including tobacco product sales to minors. Typically,with tobacco product sales non-compliance, it is the specific sales clerk who faces the penalty, not the business owner.
The federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) also performs compliance checks on tobacco product sales, but they are enforcing the new federal Tobacco 21 regulation, which can include fines of the business owner [see https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/retail-sales-tobacco-products/tobacco-21 ]. So, some local business owners are now wary of selling tobacco products to 18, 19, and 20-year-olds.
How long will this federal-state difference persist? There is currently a bill in the South Carolina Legislature (House Bill 4279) that is “PROPOSING AN AMENDMENT TO SECTION 14, ARTICLE XVII OF THE CONSTITUTION OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1895, RELATING TO CITIZENS DEEMED SUI JURIS [having full legal capacity to act on one's own behalf] AND RESTRICTIONS REGARDING THE SALE OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES, SO AS TO ALLOW THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY ALSO TO RESTRICT THE SALE OF CERTAIN PRODUCTS,SUBSTANCES, OR SERVICES DETERMINED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO BE UNREASONABLY HAZARDOUS, PERILOUS, OR UNSAFE TO PERSONS UNTIL AGE TWENTY-ONE.” So, stay tuned and let your Representative to the South Carolina House know your stance on Tobacco 21!
Lastly, in my role as a public health physician I must say that nicotine does affect the still-developing brain up through age 25 years. The risks include nicotine addiction, mood disorders,and permanent lowering of impulse control. Nicotine also changes the way synapses are formed, which can harm the parts of the brain that control attention and learning [ https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/knowtherisks.html ]. We now know these things from modern research on brain health in adolescents and young adults. Raising the legal purchase age, in addition to raising the purchase price through taxation, are two of the most effective ways our society can protect the health of our young people – our future!