I thought new federal legislation prohibits tobacco sales to minors. Why adopt a local tobacco retailer licensing law that also prohibits tobacco sales to youth?

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act does not solve the problem of illegal tobacco sales to minors. There are several gaps in the Tobacco Control Act. And in many ways, it is actually weaker than existing California laws.

For one thing, federal law prohibits only sales to individuals under age 18. However, California prohibits sales to individuals under 211, and the federal penalties for illegal sales to minors are weaker than California’s penalties. Also, California’s restrictions apply to all electronic smoking devices, regardless of whether they contain nicotine or tobacco. But the restrictions in the Tobacco Control Act apply only to electronic smoking devices that contain nicotine or tobacco. Furthermore, FDA enforcement will not ensure compliance with stronger state and local laws.

Fortunately, communities can address these gaps. The Tobacco Control Act explicitly allows state and local governments to pass laws that are stricter than federal law and apply to all tobacco products, including electronic smoking devices that do not contain nicotine or tobacco.

Some communities have achieved this through local tobacco retailer licensing (TRL). A strong TRL law can be a tool for comprehensive enforcement of the federal, state, and local tobacco laws, and it can ensure compliance checks occur in every store in a community. A strong TRL law also includes provisions for fines and license suspension/revocation, incentivizing tobacco retailers to comply fully with all tobacco control laws.

We have developed model language for a tobacco retailer licensing law for California cities and counties. In addition, we drafted supplementary “plug-in” provisions, which provide additional policy solutions. For more information, see our page on Tobacco Retailer Licensing.

1Tobacco products may be sold to 18, 19, and 20 year old active duty military members if the purchaser presents an identification card issued by the United States Armed Forces.