'State of Tobacco Control' Report Highlights Opportunity for South Carolina to Prioritize Public Health over the Tobacco Industry by Requiring Licensure for Sales of Tobacco Products

Tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 480,000 lives every year. This year’s “State of Tobacco Control” report from the American Lung Association calls for proven tobacco control policies in light of the fact that the country’s youth vaping epidemic worsened in 2019. This dire situation is a result of states and the federal government’s failure to enact policies called for in the report such as increased tobacco taxes and stronger federal oversight of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. This year’s 18th annual report finds that in 2019 South Carolina earned failing grades on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. The American Lung Association finds opportunities in 2020 for South Carolina officials to take action and increase the price of tobacco products and require a license for sales of tobacco products including electronic cigarettes in order to support public health and save lives in 2020.

The need for South Carolina to take action to protect youth from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, is more urgent than ever, with the youth vaping epidemic continuing its alarming nationwide rise to 27.5 percent or more than one in four high school students. This is a staggering 135 percent increase in high school e-cigarette use in just the past two years, and close to three million more kids started vaping in that time period, setting them up for a lifetime of addiction.

“In South Carolina, the adult tobacco use rate remains at 24.0 percent. And with the youth vaping epidemic still rising, we may have lost an opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation. Tobacco use is a serious addiction and South Carolina needs to implement the proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’,” said American Lung Association Director of Advocacy, June Deen. 

The 18th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use, and finds that while South Carolina has taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use, including providing comprehensive coverage for all tobacco cessation medications and types of counseling with minimal barriers to Medicaid enrollees, elected officials should do more to save lives and ensure all South Carolina residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

South Carolina’s Grades:

Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade [F]

Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws - Grade [F]

Level of State Tobacco Taxes - Grade [F]

Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco - Grade [B]

Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade [F]


The American Lung Association encourages South Carolina to put in place all the public policies called for in “State of Tobacco Control,”. One of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, especially for youth is to significantly increase the tax on all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Multiple studies have shown that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about four percent among adults and about seven percent among youth. The state should significantly increase cigarette taxes to at least the national average of $1.81 per pack and equalizing the tax on other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to the cigarette tax.

South Carolina is among the minority of states that does not require a license for sales of tobacco products including electronic cigarettes. South Carolina should join other states in requiring a retail license for sales of all tobacco products including electronic cigarettes. It is an important step in identifying and reducing sales to minors.

One powerful tool to address the youth vaping epidemic is increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21. The U.S. Congress finished off 2019 with a huge victory passing a federal law to increase the national tobacco sales age to 21. This law will ensure that all states have a sales age of 21 in 2020. Virtually all adult smokers had their first cigarette before age 21, and most before the age of 18. 

However, Congress failed to pass legislation to eliminate all flavored tobacco products, making the need for state action to end the sale of all flavored products critical. Massachusetts took that historic step by prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes in November 2019, becoming the first such state to do so. The Lung Association urges more states to follow Massachusetts’ lead and pass comprehensive laws eliminating flavored tobacco products in 2020.

“State of Tobacco Control” 2020 provides an important roadmap on how states like South Carolina and the federal government can put in place the policies proven to have the greatest impact on reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. Now is the time for lawmakers in South Carolina end their failure to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease,” said Deen.  

The question remains, will 2020 be the year that public health is prioritized over tobacco product manufacturers so that another generation is spared the addiction to dangerous tobacco products? As the result of successful lawsuits filed by the American Lung Association and several public health partners, FDA will be required to take several important and long overdue actions to protect the public health from tobacco products in 2020. These include finalizing graphic warning labels on all cigarette packs by March 15, and requiring all e-cigarette, and most cigar, hookah, pipe and other manufacturers of deemed products to submit applications to FDA by May 12, 2020 to remain on the market in the U.S. 


For media interested in speaking with an expert about the “State of Tobacco Control” report, lung health, tobacco use and tobacco control policies, contact the American Lung Association at [email protected] or 470-233-7030.  

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