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


Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death worldwide with tobacco products killing half a million Americans each year, yet most states fail to undertake a comprehensive approach to enforcing the minimum legal sales age of 21. If age-of-sale laws are not enforced, nicotine and tobacco retailers are not compelled to comply, which increases the 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 and state authorities to require retailers to abide by youth protection laws. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 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 that covers all products.

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) laws and other important tobacco sales regulations. More important, it is a proven effective enforcement program that costs taxpayers nothing if licensing fees are structured to cover the costs of administering and enforcing 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
  • Allows a municipality or state to regulate location, density, and type(s) of tobacco retailers permitted to operate in their jurisdiction
  • Supports other provisions such as flavored product restrictions, product discount prohibitions, establishment of tobacco-free pharmacies, and enforcing mail-order/internet delivery and point-of-sale restrictions

TRL not only protects youth, it also helps protect vulnerable persons and communities, including people with low incomes, people of color, and people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBTQ), who are specifically targeted by the tobacco industry.

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. It is more critical than ever to decrease the influence of the tobacco industry and put health for all persons over profit.

Is your community ready to pass a local Tobacco Retail License? If so, contact us to learn more!

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.