COLUMBIA, S.C. — To cut down on adolescent use of e-cigarettes and vaping, Richland County state representative and Democrat Beth Bernstein said she's working on a bill to ban flavored products.
“Banning all flavors is the first, next step in offering some solution to this epidemic, it really is an epidemic. We are in a public health crisis,” Bernstein said in her law office.
The proposed bill is currently being drafted and will be pre-filed in December, according to Bernstein.
This past spring, Bernstein introduced and passed a bill that intends to make it tougher for minors to get their hands on e-cigarette and vaping products.
The Richland County Democrat said her new proposal would ban the sale and purchase of flavored e-cigarette and vaping products across the state, which she said attracts young people.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 3.6 million middle and high schoolers used e-cigarettes in 2018.
The CDC also said 40 percent of e-cigarette users aged 18 to 24-years-old were not cigarette smokers. E-cigarettes are often advertised as a way to stop cigarette addiction.
Bernstein’s proposal already has bipartisan support.
“Definitely flavors, potentially all. The flavors are just attracting people to vape in a way they never needed to. And, you know, with three children ages 19 to 16 it is an epidemic amongst teens. It is a problem and we're gonna have to figure it out,” said Richland County Republican and state representative Kirkman Finlay.
Finlay said he'd consider raising the age to purchase any products to 21 and said he’s started considering a potential ban altogether.
Both lawmakers expressed support for temporary halts or limitations on the products while federal regulators investigate cases across the country.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said it's confirmed three cases of severe pulmonary disease related to e-cigarettes and vaping in the state. DHEC is investigating 8 others, according to a DHEC spokesman.
Family urges caution about e-cigarettes and vaping
Greenwood, South Carolina parent Trey Jenkins said his son, Jay, became seriously ill after taking drags from a vape pen in May of 2018.
The family says they were told the product in the pen was laced with something like synthetic marijuana or that Jay had a severe reaction to the ingredients.
“They all stressed that had he been five minutes later getting there, permanent damage and or death would likely have occurred,” Trey Jenkins said in a phone call.
Now, the family is calling for stricter rules on labeling and descriptions about what's inside vaping and e-cigarette products.
“I would just prefer that any legislation actually has some teeth where if a product is put in packaging that does not reflect what's in the package, I'm not looking for fines, I'm looking for jailtime,” Jenkins continued.
Jay Jenkins, whom was 18-years-old at the time, is okay and does not have long term damage from the incident. His father said he was back at the Citadel for his junior year.
Jay's sister, Camille Jenkins, said she also wants products watched more closely.
“I don't know this changed things. I still think that you can't legislate morality and you can't legislate out stupidity and stuff like that. Like kids are always getting to get their hands into things that they shouldn't have. But I do think that what happened to Jay should never have happened. His buddy went into a gas station and bought some vape juice and that-- I do think that there should be something in place to keep that from happening. Something that seemed so safe and innocent and almost killed him,” Camille said on a phone call with WLTX.
DHEC will launch weekly updates about potential e-cigarette and vaping-related pulmonary illness cases next week, according to a spokesman.
In a statement, JUUL Labs responded to the proposed legislation:
"We will review today’s announcement as we strongly agree with the need for aggressive category-wide action on flavored products. That is why we already stopped selling our non-tobacco/non-menthol based JUULpods to traditional retail stores, are fighting against counterfeit and compatible products made with unknown ingredients under unknown manufacturing standards, and will fully comply with local laws and the final FDA policy when effective. We will continue to combat youth usage, while supporting reasonable access to vapor products for adults looking to switch from combustible cigarettes.”