Are mobile vendors, such as businesses that sell products from a van or cart, allowed to sell tobacco products?

California law prohibits retailers from selling tobacco products from a mobile location. In 2012, the State Board of Equalization (BOE) issued a legal opinion clarifying that catering trucks, lunch wagons, and other mobile facilities cannot be licensed as retail locations under the Cigarette and Tobacco Products Licensing Act of 2003. BOE’s policy is based on its interpretation of California Business and Professions Code section 22971, which defines a “retail location” as either a building or a vending machine. BOE will not issue new state licenses to mobile retailers, and BOE will not renew licenses for existing mobile retailers. BOE issued a letter to vendors clarifying its policy on tobacco retailer licensing. The letter is available here.

Why is mobile tobacco vending prohibited?

The prohibition against mobile vending ensures that enforcement agencies can conduct regular compliance checks at a tobacco retailer’s permanent place of business. If a retailer sells tobacco products from a vehicle or on foot, it is difficult to conduct decoy operations or other inspections, since the retailer doesn’t remain in the same location on a consistent basis. Can tobacco products be sold from “temporary” vendors, like a festival booth or stand? BOE’s legal opinion also discussed whether a retailer who is already licensed to sell tobacco products from a permanent location needs an additional state license to sell from a temporary location, like a booth at a festival. According to BOE’s policy, a retailer at a permanent location must obtain a separate retailer’s license for tobacco product sales at booths or stands at flea markets, festivals, and other events. The retailer is required to obtain a state license even if the sale is a one-time event and should obtain a retailer’s license for each location where an event is being held.

What can localities do to regulate tobacco sales?

ChangeLab Solutions has a Model Tobacco Retailer Licensing (TRL) Ordinance to help California cities and counties that want to take steps to reduce youth access to tobacco products. Through a local TRL, a city or county can explicitly prohibit sales of tobacco products from vehicles, on foot, and from temporary locations. By including a ban on mobile retailing as part of a local TRL law, communities can restrict retailing practices that may not be covered by state law, such as mobile sales of electronic cigarettes and other emerging tobacco products. To learn more about using tobacco retailer licensing as a tool for public health, see our TRL Fact Sheet.