Can I use licensing to limit where tobacco retailers can set up shop?

Yes. Although California law does not impose any limits on the location of tobacco retailers, local governments can control the location of tobacco retailing in two main ways: through a tobacco retailer licensing (TRL) law or through a land use law.

Under local TRLs, the government requires all businesses that sell tobacco products to pay an annual fee to obtain a license from the government in exchange for the privilege of selling these products to consumers. Strong enforcement mechanisms, such as store inspections and youth purchase decoy operations, are effective ways to reduce youth access to tobacco. But increasingly, TRLs are being used to promote other innovative policy solutions as well, including controlling the location and density of tobacco retailers. We have developed model language for a tobacco retailer licensing law as well as supplementary “plug-in” provisions that provide policy options on issues like location and density. For more information, see our page on Tobacco Retailer Licensing.

Another way to limit where tobacco retailers can locate is through land use. A community can amend its zoning code to prohibit tobacco retailers from locating in certain zones in the community, such as residential zones, or in the areas near child-oriented uses. Zoning is a powerful tobacco control tool and is uniquely suited to controlling the location of tobacco retailers.

A community also can require new tobacco retailers to obtain a conditional use permit (CUP). A CUP can establish restrictions on how the business operates, such as limiting the amount of signs in storefront windows or banning the sale of single cigars. For more detailed information on using land use ordinances to regulate tobacco retailers, see our memo, Municipal Authority to Regulate Retailers.