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FLORENCE — You no longer have to be 21 years old to get a tattoo without parental consent in South Carolina.

Gov. Mark Sanford recently approved a bill that lowered the legal age of consent for a tattoo to 18.

South Carolina had been the only state in the country that required a person to be 21 to get a tattoo. Under the previous law, people between the ages of 18 and 20 had to have the written consent of a parent to get a tattoo.

Even military personnel under 21 had to have parental consent, which was one of the driving factors in changing the law.

Those in the tattoo industry such as Lloyd Mitchell, owner of Imperial Ink in Florence, said the new law just makes sense.

Mitchell said lowering the age of consent will not only help keep the industry safe , but also keep business in South Carolina.

“We were having to turn away 18-year-olds all the time,” Mitchell said. “Turning away service personnel was the hardest. I felt like it was almost insulting to them.

“It’s hard to tell a 20-year-old who’s been to Iraq and fought for us that he has to have mom sign for a tattoo,” he said. “In a lot of cases, people were determined to get them anyway. So when we’d turn them away, they’d just leave here and go to North Carolina and get one. Or even worse, they’d go to a house where someone’s doing tattoos illegally. Those places aren’t usually safe or sanitary.”

Jon Buchholz, manager at Imperial Ink, said he and others lobbied to get the age lowered. He said he thinks it protects the general public from unsanitary and dangerous backroom tattoo parlors.

“We were losing business to people who don’t follow the rules,” Buchholz said. “You don’t want young people going to these houses and getting tattooed improperly. It’s extremely dangerous. That’s why DHEC (the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control) put standards and regulations in place to start with.”

South Carolina lawmakers passed a bill in 2004 that legalized tattooing in the state. Tattooing began two years later after DHEC put safety and health standards in place.

Mitchell said his shop has seen an increase in business since the age change went into effect.

On Wednesday, 19-year-old Kenzie Duncan and her sister, April Duncan, were at Imperial Ink to get matching tattoos bearing the lyrics of an Avett Brothers song: “Just remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.”

It was Kenzie Duncan’s first tattoo, and she said she believes she’s old enough to make the decision on her own.

“I definitely think the age (of consent) should be 18,” she said. “I can vote. I can go to war. I think I should be able to get a tattoo. If the law hadn’t changed, we would have just gone to North Carolina and done it.”

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Mcconnell, who sponsored the bill, said he did so because he thought the old law was unconstitutional.

“It treated adults differently,” McConnell said. “If you can sign a contract, vote, and join the military at 18 ... everything except drink alcohol ... why wouldn’t you be allowed to get a tattoo?”

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