Although California requires a license to sell tobacco products, the state licensing law is not designed to address public health concerns and does nothing to reduce illegal tobacco sales to youth. Rather, the statewide licensing program was designed to prevent tax evasion. It has a low annual fee, and the penalties for violating the state license are so weak that retailers are at little risk of losing their licenses if they violate the law.
Communities across California have attempted to fill the void by adopting local tobacco retailer licensing (TRL) laws. A strong TRL law can be a tool for comprehensive enforcement of federal, state, and local tobacco laws. It provides dedicated funding for enforcement activities and ensures compliance checks occur in every store in a community. Communities can also use a local TRL law to enforce other tobacco laws that protect public health, such as restricting or prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products, reducing tobacco retailer density, and prohibiting tobacco sales near schools. 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.