Policy Tip Sheet: Tobacco Harm Reduction 101: South Carolina

Published January 16, 2020

Since their introduction to the U.S. market in 2007, e-cigarettes and vaping devices—tobacco harm reduction products that are 95 percent safer than combustible cigarettes—have helped more than three million American adults quit smoking.

1. Economic Impact
According to the Vapor Technology Association, in 2018, the industry created 1,671 direct vaping-related jobs, including manufacturing, retail, and wholesale jobs in South Carolina, which generated $45 million in wages alone.[1] Moreover, the industry has created hundreds of secondary jobs in the Palmetto State, bringing the total economic impact in 2018 to $369,766,200. In the same year, South Carolina received more than $21 million in state taxes attributable to the vaping industry. These figures do not include sales in convenience stores, which sell vapor products including disposables and prefilled cartridges. In 2016, sales of these products in South Carolina eclipsed $8 million.[2]

2. State Health Department Data
As of January 7, 2020, the South Carolina Department has reported 39 cases of vaping-related lung illnesses, including one death.[3] Patients range in age from 13 to 69 years-old. There is no other data available including median age, gender, and substances vaped. This is alarming because many state health departments have already linked vaping-related lung illnesses to the use of products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and provided this information in their own updates. The Heartland Institute gives SCDHEC a grade of F for information available on vaping-related lung illnesses. 

3. More Information Needed
The most recent report on youth e-cigarette use in South Carolina is from the 2017 South Carolina Youth Risk Behavior Survey.[4] According to the survey, in 2017, 88.1 percent of South Carolina high school students reported not using a vapor product in the 30 days prior to the survey. Further, in 2017, only 1.5 percent of South Carolina high school students reported daily e-cigarette use. More data is needed to understand the effects of public health campaigns on youth e-cigarette use.  

4. Youth Sales Miniscule
From January 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) administered 8,274 tobacco age compliance inspections in South Carolina, in which the agency used a minor in an attempt to purchase tobacco products.[5] Of those, 961, or 11 percent, resulted in a sale to a minor. Of the violations, 122 (13 percent of violations and 1 percent of all compliance checks) involved the sale of e-cigarettes or vaping devices. The number of violations involving sales of cigars and cigarettes were 465 and 305, respectively, during the same period.

5. Misspent Money
In 2019, South Carolina received an estimated $238.2 million in tobacco taxes and tobacco settlement payments. In the same year, the state spent only $5 million, or 2 percent, on funding tobacco control programs, including education and prevention.[6]

Policy Solution
Electronic cigarettes and vaping devices have proven to be tremendous tobacco harm reduction tools, helping many smokers transition away from combustible cigarettes. Despite recent fearmongering, their use is significantly safer than traditional cigarettes, as noted by numerous public health groups including the Royal College of Physicians,[7] Public Health England,[8] and the American Cancer Society.[9] Rather than restricting their use, and undoubtedly reducing public health gains and millions of dollars in economic output, lawmakers should dedicate existing tobacco funds on programs that actually reduce youth use.

Key Points:
1. South Carolina’s vaping industry provided more than $369 million in economic activity in 2018 while generating 1,671 direct vaping-related jobs. Sales of disposables and prefilled cartridges in South Carolina exceeded $8 million in 2016.

2. As of January 7, 2020, SCDHEC has reported 39 cases of vaping-related lung illnesses, including one death. SCDHEC does not give any information on substances vaped. SCDHEC earns an F for its reporting on vaping-related lung illnesses.

3. In 2017, only 1.5 perecent of South Carolina high school students reported daily e-cigarette use. More data is needed.   

4. Only 1 percent of FDA retail compliance checks in South Carolina resulted in sales of e-cigarettes to minors from January 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019.

5. South Carolina spends very little on tobacco prevention. In 2019, South Carolina dedicated only $5 million on tobacco control, or 2 percent of what the state received in tobacco settlement payments and taxes



[1] Vapor Technology Association, “The Economic Impact of the Vapor Industry SOUTH CAROLINA,” 2019, https://vta.guerrillaeconomics.net/reports/d35ab2ad-283d-495e-8810-bff6763a1e22?.

[2] Teresa W. Wang et al., “National and State-Specific Unit Sales and Prices for Electronic Cigarettes, United States, 2012-2016,” Preventing Chronic Disease, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 2, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2018/17_0555.htm.

[3] South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, “E-Cigarette and Vaping Product Use Associated Lung Injury (EVALI),” January 7, 2020, https://www.scdhec.gov/e-cigarette-vaping-product-use-associated-lung-injury-evali. Accessed January 16,2020.

[4] South Carolina Department of Education, “South Carolina High School Survey,” 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2017, https://ed.sc.gov/districts-schools/school-safety/health-safety-surveys/sc-youth-risk-behaviors-survey-yrbs/2017-use-of-tobacco-alcohol-and-drugs/.

[5] U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Compliance Check Inspections of Tobacco Product Retailers,” September 30, 2019, https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/oce/inspections/oce_insp_searching.cfm.

[6] Truth Initiative, “Tobacco use in South Carolina,” June 28, 2019, https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/smoking-region/tobacco-use-south-carolina-2019.

[7] Royal College of Physicians, Nicotine without Smoke: Tobacco Harm Reduction, April 2016, https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/nicotinewithout-smoke-tobacco-harm-reduction-0.

[8] A. McNeill et al., “Evidence review of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products 2018,” Public Health England, February 2018, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/684963/Evidence_review_of_e-cigarettes_and_heated_tobacco_products_2018.pdf.

[9] The American Cancer Society, “What Do We Know About E-Cigarettes?” June 19, 2019,  https://web.archive.org/web/20190806152535/https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/e-cigarettes.html.


For more information, please refer to:

Tobacco Harm Reduction 101: A Guidebook for Policymakers
This booklet from The Heartland Institute aims to inform key stakeholders on the much-needed information on the benefits of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices. Tobacco Harm Reduction 101 details the history of e-cigarettes, including regulatory actions on these products. The booklet also explains the role of nicotine, addresses tax policy and debunks many of the myths associated with e-cigarettes, including assertions about “popcorn lung,” formaldehyde, and the so-called youth vaping epidemic.


Nothing in this Policy Tip Sheet is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Budget & Tax News website, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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