Teens and vaping: The unfiltered truth ...part 3

When discussing teenage use of nicotine products, the health and safety concerns seemingly precede one of the more obvious factors in the equation: tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, are illegal for citizens under the age of 18 to purchase or use.

There’s more than likely no singular reason why it’s a lesser talking point in the broader conversation. But, from a law enforcement perspective, e-cigarette use among teens is a punishable offense, although it’s not always a crime in the crosshairs.

“I would classify this in the same light that I would classify minors in possession of tobacco, minors in possession of alcohol,” said Charleston Police Department Lieutenant James Byrne of Daniel Island-based Team 5. “It’s not the very top thing on our radar, but it’s not something we’re going to turn a blind eye to.”

As far as Byrne knows, there have been no citations issued for minors in possession of e-cigarettes in Team 5 or the rest of CPD.

“The reason for that is this is such a newer phenomenon,” he further explained.

In the South Carolina Code of Laws, section 16-17-500, the penalty for underage possession of tobacco products is a civil fine of $25, or the court may ask the offender to participate in a Department of Health and Environmental Control approved smoking cessation course or commit to five hours of community service.

If the minor fails to meet one of these three requirements, “the court may restrict the minor’s driving privileges to driving only to and from school, work, and church, or as the court considers appropriate for a period of ninety days,” the law states.

One popular fabrication high schoolers hear is that graduating students can lose their college scholarships if caught with alternative tobacco products. This is untrue, as the law directly addresses it.

“A violation of this subsection is not grounds for denying, suspending, or revoking an individual’s participation in a state college or university financial assistance program including, but not limited to, a Life Scholarship, a Palmetto Fellows Scholarship, or a need-based grant.”

The pervasive rumor has been a scare tactic, with Byrne even noting that some of his officers repeating it, “out of a misunderstanding.”

On the other side of the coin, penalties are larger for adults who sell to minors. For a first time offender, a fine between $100 and $200 occurs. The charge increases with every offense. In lieu of a fine, a court can order the offender to complete a Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services approved merchant tobacco enforcement education program.

Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Charleston Office Jason Sandoval said that, while his department is concerned with e-cigarettes, they aim their sights in a slightly different direction.

“The nicotine inhaled from an e-cigarette is no less addictive than a traditional cigarette,” Sandoval said. “More alarming, we’ve seen a trend across the country of Juul devices being used to ingest tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentrates. THC is the psychoactive substance that provides the high associated with smoking marijuana. THC concentrates are highly potent and can contain as much as four times the amount of THC in high-grade plant-based marijuana.”

While it is illegal for minors to smoke from and own tobacco alternatives, the penalties are not extensive. But, from what Dr. Kevin Gray stated in the first article in our vaping series, the health effects really could be. And, even though law enforcement officials have not given a significant amount of citations to minors in possession of e-cigarettes, they continue to watch for it.

Next week, in the final story in our “Teens and vaping: The unfiltered truth” series, we explore what parents and others can do to help identify and address e-cigarette use among kids.

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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