STATE System Licensure Fact Sheet
In the United States, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death. It prematurely kills more than 480,000 people — about one in every five people — in the United States each year.1 Another 16 million people have a serious illness caused by smoking or secondhand smoke exposure.1 Each year, smoking costs the United States nearly $170 billion in direct medical costs and more than $156 billion in lost productivity.1,2
The Surgeon General has found that licensing retailers is an evidence-based tobacco control measure to reduce tobacco use.1,3 Requiring a license for tobacco retailers lets states and localities know who is selling tobacco products in their jurisdiction, allowing states and localities to enact and enforce policies that that help to prevent young people from ever starting to use tobacco products.
The National Academy of Medicine recommends that states license all retail stores that sell tobacco products and limit the number of stores that sell tobacco.4 All states have the legal authority to require tobacco retailers to obtain a license before selling tobacco products.5 Licensing fees can cover the costs of administering the licensing program and enforcing tobacco retail policies.6
There are at least 380,000 tobacco retailers in the United States.7,8 As of June 30, 2020, 13 states, American Samoa, Guam, and Puerto Rico require retailers to have a license to sell cigarettes and other non-cigarette tobacco products (“conventional tobacco products”) over the counter. Twenty-five states, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, and the US Virgin Islands require retailers to have a license to sell either conventional tobacco products or e-cigarettes over the counter.9
Twenty-nine states, American Samoa, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico allow licenses to either be suspended or revoked if a retailer violates the tobacco retailer licensing requirements; 19 states, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands allow licenses to be either suspended or revoked for violating the e-cigarette retailer licensing requirements; and 18 states, American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands allow these penalties if retailers sell conventional tobacco products or e-cigarettes to youth.9
Other jurisdictions have chosen only one of these penalty options: 2 states suspend licenses if a retailer violates the tobacco retailer licensing requirements; 2 states suspend licenses for violating the e-cigarette licensing requirements; 8 states and Puerto Rico suspend licenses for sales of conventional tobacco products or e-cigarettes to youth; 6 states revoke licenses if a retailer violates the tobacco retailer licensing requirements; 2 states revoke licenses for violating the e-cigarette licensing law; and Palau revokes licenses for any of these types of violations.9
As of June 30, 2020, all but 4 states that require retailers to have a license require them to pay a fee.9,10 There is a wide range in fees that states and territories require stores to pay to sell conventional tobacco or e-cigarettes.9 For example, maximum license fees range from $5 in Montana to $500 in Hawaii.9
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014. Printed with corrections, January 2014.
2. Xu X, Bishop EE, Kennedy SM, Simpson SA, Pechacek TF. Annual Healthcare Spending Attributable to Cigarette Smoking: An Update. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2014;3797(14): doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2014.10.012
3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2012.
4. Institute of Medicine. Ending the Tobacco Problem: A Blueprint for the Nation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007. The National Academy of Medicine formerly was known as the Institute of Medicine.
5. McLaughlin I. License to Kill? Tobacco Retailer Licensing as an Effective Enforcement Tool. St. Paul, MN: Public Health Law center, Tobacco Control Legal Consortium: 2010.
6. Center for Public Health Systems Science. Point-of-Sale Strategies: A Tobacco Control Guide. Center for Public Health Systems Science; George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium. 2014.
7. Center for Public Health Systems Science. Point-of-Sale Report to the Nation: The Tobacco Retail and Policy Landscape. St. Louis, MO: Center for Public Health Systems Science at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and the National Cancer Institute, State and Community Tobacco Control Research Initiative, 2014. This report estimated that there were 375,000 tobacco retailers in the U.S., but did not include retailers that only sold e-cigarettes
8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration. Deeming Tobacco Products to be Subject to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as Amended by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act: Final Regulatory Impact Analysis, 2016.pdf iconexternal iconpdf iconexternal icon Accessed December 12, 2017. This regulatory analysis estimated that there were 5,000-10,000 retailers that sold only e-cigarettes.
9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State Tobacco Activities Tracking and Evaluation System. Accessed April 10, 2019.
10. These five states are Idaho, Minnesota (which requires retailers to be licensed locally), Mississippi, Nevada, and Wisconsin.
DISCLAIMER: The STATE System contains data synthesized from state-level statutory laws. It does not contain state-level regulations; measures implemented by counties, cities, or other localities; opinions of Attorneys General; or relevant case law decisions for tobacco control topics other than preemption; all of which may vary significantly from the laws reported in the database, fact sheets, and publications.