Proposed legislation that recently passed in the state House of Representatives seeks to bar communities from enacting laws regulating tobacco products.
The proposal, which passed by a 69-37 vote, comes amid Myrtle Beach aiming to do just that.
It would prohibit cities and counties from signing off on laws regarding ingredients, flavors or licensing of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, tobacco products or “alternative nicotine products.”
This wouldn’t apply to laws enacted prior to Jan. 1, 2019.
With a federal lawsuit looming, Myrtle Beach leaders recently implemented a citywide moratorium on vape shops. The ordinance passed the required final reading after Jan. 1.
The moratorium means no new business licenses will be issued through the end of the year for businesses that primarily sell tobacco, CBD items and vape products.
Currently, there are about two dozen of those shops located in the city, according to city planner Allison Hardin.
“This got lumped into the tobacco bill,” Mayor Brenda Bethune recently told the city’s planning commission, who discussed the moratorium, of the proposed state law. She added the proposal has now gone to the state senate.
Bethune has sent lawmakers letters requesting they vote no, she said.
“For us as a tourist destination, these types of entities affect our image more than it does a small rural community that may have one or two (of the shops),” she said. “ I think they fail to realize we could end up with 50 along Kings Highway.”
The mayor encouraged planning commission members to reach out to state senators regarding the proposed law.
Businesses that are currently operating are not impacted by the moratorium.
City Manager John Pedersen previously said the moratorium has nothing to do with the litigation. He has said city leaders discussed the proliferation of vape shops at a prior workshop meeting and the moratorium is an answer to their concerns.
The moratorium calls for the city’s planning commission to study the number of shops in the city and what other cities are doing with vape shops as well as look at recommendations.
“We are moving forward as gently as possible until we’re told otherwise,” Hardin said. “Until we are told that we can’t go forward, the process will go forward.”
She added that the moratorium does not seek to eliminate smoke shops from the city limits, but to find out an appropriate zoning.
Planning Director Carol Coleman and Hardin have said the commission expects to have something to present to the council later this year before the board's deadline.
The lawsuit facing the city also involves vape shops.
The city council established an overlay district in the central part of Ocean Boulevard in August that prohibited vape shops in addition to stores that sell sexually explicit clothing, cannabis merchandise and smoke shops.
The overlay district spans the boulevard from 16th Avenue North to 6th Avenue South and reaches to the rear property line of businesses facing Kings Highway.
A group of business owners is suing the city, city council and the mayor.
The lawsuit filed by the parent companies for these shops alleges the ban is unconstitutional and targets Jewish storeowners.
“The impact of the Ordinance falls almost exclusively upon the Jewish community in downtown Myrtle Beach,” the lawsuit states.
An agreement reached between the city and the t-shirt shops and vape stores allows those businesses to continue operating normally without fear that the controversial merchandise will be seized while the court decides on the lawsuit.
City leaders have said implementing the overlay district was a step to ensuring Myrtle Beach is “family friendly.”