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NEW! Guide to Best Practices in TRL

  • Tobacco products kill half a million Americans each year and virtually all smokers begin their lifelong nicotine addiction as teens.
  • Tobacco products kill half a million Americans each year and virtually all smokers begin their lifelong nicotine addiction as teens.
  • Tobacco Retail Licensing (TRL) reduces initiation to nicotine and tobacco through improved compliance with Minimum Legal Sales Age (MLSA) and other important tobacco sales regulations.
  • TRL has become a vital regulatory tool that enables states and localities to monitor tobacco sales, fund compliance efforts, and create effective penalty and suspension structures for repeated violations.
  • A TRL is not the same as a tobacco tax permit that many states already employ. A true tobacco retail license is tied to retailer compliance with all applicable sales, marketing, and display laws.
  • By requiring a TRL, a municipality or state can also regulate location, density, and type(s) of tobacco retailers permitted to operate in their jurisdiction. TRL will also 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.

Implementation of a Comprehensive Tobacco Retail License (TRL) will:

  • Establish a comprehensive list of all retailers of nicotine and tobacco products in the jurisdiction.
  • Fund enforcement of tobacco sales regulations at no cost to the taxpayer.
  • Prevent illegal sales of nicotine and tobacco products.
  • Provide weight to current sales laws by imposing a threat of suspension for repeated violations.
  • Reduce productivity loss, health insurance costs (including Medicaid), related illness and death.
  • Advance public health through prevention and substantially increase health equity.

The Detailed Case for Tobacco Retail Licensing

TRL will reduce youth usage and help reverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic. Teenage use of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed in recent years. While there has been a decline in the past year, over 3.5 million U.S. middle and high school kids are currently using e-cigarettes. Manufacturers, through predatory marketing, slick product design, and kid-friendly flavors, have lured millions of teens into nicotine addiction.

  • TRL provides the enforcement infrastructure for “Tobacco 21 laws.” Age of sale restrictions only work if there is a credible threat of regular, unannounced compliance checks in every location, every year.
  • TRL enables enforcement of flavor bans and point-of-sale marketing restrictions.

TRL supports the Federal “Tobacco 21” law and supplements state enforcement. As of December 20, 2019, federal law made it illegal to sell nicotine or tobacco products to any person under age 21, without exception or exemption. As a condition of their Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) block-grant funding, states must demonstrate that their retailers are compliant by remaining below a 20 percent retailer violation rate (RVR) on FDA compliance checks. However, FDA enforcement alone is inadequate and supplemental local enforcement is critical to being able to meet that threshold.

  • TRL retailer lists provide an accurate survey base for compliance checks performed by FDA contractors.
  • TRL violation statistics allow for focused enforcement in areas with higher than normal retailer violation rates.
  • TRL funds local and statewide enforcement at no cost to the taxpayer if licensing fees are structured to cover all costs of administering the license.

The U.S. has steadily expanded tobacco protections over the past several decades, but these protections (which most Americans now take for granted) are less likely to cover disadvantaged persons and communities– including people on 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.

  • TRL provides a complete list of all tobacco product sellers and can provide data about density and retailer type that may be overlayed with racial, ethnic, age-group and economic makeup data of the neighborhoods where tobacco retailers operate.
  • TRL provides a regulatory structure at the state or local level to enact policies that effectively counter tobacco industry targeting of certain groups.

TRL levels the playing field for all business owners. Almost every state and many cities require a license to hunt, fish, keep a pet, operate a tattoo parlor, hair or nail salon, sell liquor, sell marijuana and more, but many still don’t require a license to sell addictive and deadly tobacco products.

  • TRL provides meaningful steps toward suspension and revocation for rogue retailers who repeatedly violate sales laws.
  • TRL sets a baseline standard around which all retailers must operate.

Best Practices in Tobacco Retail Licensing

A Comprehensive Tobacco Retail License:

  • Includes a comprehensive definition of “tobacco products” that includes cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, pipes, rolling papers, electronic smoking devices, related liquids and other related devices, written to capture all known and future products.
  • Includes a Findings of Fact and Purpose section, which provides the evidentiary basis for the proposed policy and demonstrates the city or state’s reasoning for adopting specific provisions and defines all key terms that are used throughout the law.
  • Stipulates that no person shall sell or offer to sell or distribute any tobacco product without having obtained a non-transferable License from the city, county, or state.
  • Establishes penalties for selling or distributing tobacco products without a License.
  • Requires that the License be renewed annually.
  • Sets an annual License fee and allows it to be periodically adjusted. Fee must be adequate to cover License administration, education/training, and enforcement. (Note: an annual fee of lower than $300 is generally inadequate to fund a licensing program; many jurisdictions have fees that are much higher).
  • Designates a civil enforcing agency to carry out License administration and enforcement.
  • Establishes a civil (not criminal) penalty structure for violations, including graduated monetary fines and mandatory License suspension or revocation for repeated violations.
  • Ensures that penalties and fines are imposed on the tobacco retailer or licensee and not the youth purchaser or non-management employee.
  • Prohibits the issuing of a new License to a tobacco retail establishment that is less than 1,000 feet of any youth-oriented facility.
  • Prohibits the sale of tobacco products to persons under the age of 21.
  • Restricts deliveries of internet/mail-order sales to licensed tobacco retailers.
  • Requires verification of age with a government-issued photo ID for any purchaser appearing to be under the age of 30.
  • Mandates a minimum number of unannounced compliance checks be conducted for each licensed retailer every year. Recommend (2) compliance checks per retailer, per year.
  • Requires that all tobacco retailers post signs stating that sales to persons under the age of 21 are prohibited.
  • Requires that retailers train their employees as a condition of receiving a License.
  • States that any violation of local, state, or federal law is a violation of the License.

See attached for:

  • Sample Ordinances and Topics in Tobacco Retail Licensing
  • Additional Tobacco Retail Licensing Information and Resources
  • Full citations and End Notes


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.