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Tobacco Retail License

Tobacco Retail Licensing: An Essential Tool to Reduce Youth Usage and Foster Health Equity

While cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death with tobacco products killing half a million Americans each year, most states still fail to undertake a comprehensive approach to enforce the new minimum legal sales age of 21. If laws are not enforced and retailers don’t face a threat to lose their ability to sell tobacco products, then they are not inspired to comply – furthering the ongoing risk of kids becoming lifelong tobacco users and addicted to nicotine.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is empowered to enforce federal tobacco sales laws but has historically failed to do so. Therefore, it has always been up to local authorities to require local retailers to abide by youth protection laws. According to the Centers for Disease Control, over half the states either do not require a license to sell e-cigarettes and other tobacco products or they don’t have a comprehensive licensing program covering all products. This unfortunately does not take into account the number of states that are considered to have a comprehensive Tobacco Retail License (TRL) with fees too low to adequately fund a compliance program or include a model penalty structure to encourage retailer compliance to MLSA laws.

Image credit: CDC

About this map

License required to sell e-cigarettes or other tobacco products

License required to sell tobacco products other than e-cigarettes

No license required

Tobacco Retail Licensing (TRL) has become an essential tool in both protecting kids from irresponsible or unscrupulous retailers, and in leveling the playing field for those retailers who do abide by the rules. TRL reduces initiation to nicotine and tobacco through improved compliance with Minimum Legal Sales Age (MLSA) and other important tobacco sales regulations. And more importantly, it is a proven effective enforcement program that is at no cost to the taxpayer if licensing fees are structured to cover all costs of administering the license.

TRL is a vital regulatory tool that:

  • enables localities to monitor tobacco sales, fund compliance efforts, and create effective penalty and suspension structures for repeated violations
  • closes the gap in tobacco regulation that was left open by both the federal and state Tobacco 21 laws
  • allows a municipality or state to regulate location, density, and type(s) of tobacco retailers permitted to operate in their jurisdiction
  • aide in implementing other provisions such as flavored product restrictions, prohibiting product discounts, creating tobacco-free pharmacies, and enforcing mail-order/internet delivery and point-of-sale restrictions

TRL not only protects youth, it also helps protect disadvantaged persons and communities – including people with low incomes, people of color, and people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), who are more likely to experience a range of health problems related to the use of tobacco. The tobacco industry promotes its products more within certain communities; as a result, rates of tobacco use and related health problems are much higher for these communities compared to the general population. Further, those living in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods are exposed to more tobacco retailers, more advertising, and steeper product discounts. This means we need to decrease the influence of the tobacco industry and put health for all persons over profit.  

See attached for:

  • TRL Best Practices Guide and End Notes
  • Sample Ordinances and Topics in Tobacco Retail Licensing
  • Additional Tobacco Retail Licensing Information and Resources


Tobacco Retail Licensing: An Essential Tool to Reduce Youth Usage and Foster Health Equity – A Guide to Best Practices in Tobacco Retail Licensing (TRL) was authored by the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation and does not represent the views or opinions of the organizations referenced in this document.

Florida Governor DeSantis Vetoes Tobacco 21 Bill

Statement from Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation President Rob Crane, MD 

Governor DeSantis’ veto of the Tobacco 21 and Vaping Flavors bill reflects a disheartening refusal to acknowledge the magnitude of the teen vaping epidemic that threatens to addict hundreds of thousands of Florida kids. Unfortunately, the Governor has listened to vape dealers rather than worried Florida parents. The flawed rationale Governor DeSantis gave for his veto is evidence he is choosing to ignore the science on e-cigarettes. Although SB 810 fell far short of being a model Tobacco 21 bill, it would have brought thousands of vape shops and other sellers of e-cigarette products into the current statewide tobacco retail licensing program and required age verification protocols that don’t exist in Florida.

In accordance with the bipartisan federal law signed by President Trump last December, states continue to pass Tobacco 21 legislation: a total of 33 states, including 14 in 2020, have raised the legal sales age to 21 to ensure the federal age will be uniformly enforced. With this veto, Florida faces a potential loss of federal dollars if the state does not meet a specific threshold of retailer violations.

We thank the bill sponsors and Attorney General Ashley Moody for their continued commitment to the protections the Governor failed to put in place, and we can only hope next year’s legislature will take a firmer stand in favor of Florida kids.

Exploitation of the COVID-19 pandemic by e-cigarette marketers


Over the last decade, a wide variety of e-cigarette advertisements have claimed superior healthfulness compared with cigarettes.1 Recently, we recognised a novel form of health reassurance advertising, promotion of e-cigarettes via COVID-19 pandemic themes. This led us to systematically explore COVID-19 marketing of e-cigarette brands and vape stores on their websites and Instagram accounts. We have collected over 300 COVID-19 themed e-cigarette promotional images and posted them to our online repository ( These images represent 21 e-cigarette brands and 41 online vaping stores that vend multiple brands. The COVID-19 messaging in these advertisements took several forms.

As essential supplies became scarce in stores, e-cigarette brands offered these much-needed supplies, including masks, toilet paper rolls and hand sanitisers, as gifts contingent on the purchase of vaping products (figure 1). Some brands (eg, Podsalt, BLVK and One Drop Vape) offered free hand sanitiser with the purchase of any of its products. Podsalt described its sanitiser as ‘WHO recommended’ and claimed that it ‘kills 99.9% of bacteria’.3 VaporDNA offered two strengths of CBD-enriched hand sanitisers (50 mg and 200 mg), while Vape Craft offered the option of sanitiser with or without CBD.4 5 The British nicotine liquid manufacturer MyVapery/Xyfil claimed that it has transformed 80% of its production capacity to produce 50 000 alcohol-based hand sanitisers per day.6 The brand created a website ( and Instagram page (@handsanitising) to market its brand of hand sanitiser.7

Click here to read more.

Evaluating how licensing-law strategies will impact disparities in tobacco retailer density: a simulation in Ohio

Retail Tobacco Density and Access

The tobacco industry spends nearly $1,000,000 every hour on retail advertising and price discounts to support sales at hundreds of thousands of tobacco retailers in the United States.

National Press Release

Executive Summary

Data Overview

The ASPiRE Center mapped tobacco retailers in the 30 cities represented on our ASPiRE Community Advisory Board. We developed tailored Tobacco Retailer Density Fact Sheets and “Tobacco Swamps” Maps to provide each city with usable snapshots of its tobacco retail environment. Use these resources, along with shareable social graphics and press releases for all 30 cities, to support the increasing number of local tobacco control interventions that address the retail environment.

Together, the fact sheets and maps illustrate that across the ASPiRE cities tobacco retailers are:

Located near schools

On average, 63% of public schools are within 1,000 feet (about 2 city blocks) of a tobacco retailer. This ranged from 33% in San Diego to 94% in New York City.

Concentrated in lower-income areas

On average, the number of tobacco retailers per square mile is nearly 5 times more in the lowest-income neighborhoods than in the highest-income neighborhoods. This difference was largest in Memphis (over 12 times more) and smallest in Chicago (no difference).

Easy to access

On average, 70% of city residents live within ½ mile (~10 minute walk) of a tobacco retailer. This ranged from 42% in Charlotte to 94% in New York City. Maps illustrate “tobacco swamps,” which are areas with a glut of tobacco retailers.

Clustered together

On average, 54% of tobacco retailers are within 500 feet (~2 minute walk) of another tobacco retailer. This ranged from 42% in Fort Worth to 76% in Miami.


There are 31 times more tobacco retailers than McDonald’s restaurants and 16 times more retailers than Starbucks. In the 30 ASPiRE cities, there are 40,856 tobacco retailers and about 375,000 nationwide (as of 2012).

Click on your city to view tobacco retailer density and related resources.