How is a local tobacco retailer licensing ordinance enforced?

There is no one “right way” to implement and enforce a local tobacco retailer licensing program. That said, successful programs share some characteristics: for example, oversight from a single government agency with dedicated staff members; early planning for enforcement that engages all the key players; and a license fee that is large enough to cover the full costs of administering and enforcing the program.

To help understand the variety of local approaches to tobacco retailer licensing, in 2006 we studied four communities that are effectively enforcing their local tobacco retailer licensing laws: Contra Costa County, Santa Barbara County, the City of Willits, and the City of Los Angeles. We chose these communities because they were among the first in California to suspend the tobacco licenses of retail outlets that violated sales-to-youth or other tobacco control laws. You can read more about our review of the four licensing programs, and how, despite their differences, they all achieve the goal of holding retailers accountable for violations of tobacco sales laws.

Enforcement is generally broken into two phases: gathering evidence and taking action against retailers who are violating the law. The evidence-gathering phase includes having the designated inspection agency conduct inspections of retailers to determine if they are complying with license conditions. If the inspection finds any violations, enforcement moves to the second phase.

The second phase can be either a “one-step” or “two-step” process. A “one-step” process involves a single administrative proceeding, while a “two-step” process requires a court hearing first and then, if there’s a conviction, a subsequent administrative proceeding to determine whether the license will be suspended. The local government decides whether to implement a “one-step” or “two step” process.

Learn more about tobacco retailer licensing on our TRL Licensing page.