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The tobacco industry has a long and ugly history of targeting young people. Tobacco company representatives used to give away free menthol cigarettes to kids as young as nine years old. 


While giveaways are now illegal, stores sell some tobacco products for less than $1. Prices are lowest of all in low-income minority neighborhoods with large numbers of school-age youth. 

minority youth tobacco advertising.jpg

© California Department of Public Health

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These cheap products, kid-friendly flavors,* e-cigarettes, and stores that sell tobacco to kids are many of the reasons why nearly 90% of smokers start before age 18. 

© California Department of Public Health



We don’t smoke that sh*t.
We just sell it.
We reserve the right to smoke
for the young, the poor,
the black and stupid.



Stock photo. Posed by model.

*Prop 31, effective December 21, 2022, prohibits the sale of most flavored tobacco in California. Stores can still sell flavored hookah, pipe tobacco, premium cigars over $12, and unflavored products including vapes and cheap cigarillos. State law leaves enforcement to local agencies but does not provide additional resources for implementation.

 But there is a solution: 
 A Tobacco Retail License. 
Tobacco Retail License

© California Department of Public Health


A Tobacco Retail License (TRL) requires businesses to pay a yearly fee to sell tobacco. The fee is used to enforce tobacco laws. Stores caught selling to underage youth the first time have their license suspended for a limited period. Multiple violations result in a loss of license. This motivates retailers to make sure their clerks ask for I.D. every time.

Communities with TRLs have reduced sales to underage youth. 209 cities and counties in California have adopted TRLs to help keep kids away from tobacco.

More communities are discovering that not allowing coupons, together with minimum prices and pack sizes, is an effective way to stop every manipulative pricing strategy tobacco companies use to attract youth and keep smokers addicted. 

  • No Cheap Tobacco
    Teens smoke cigarillos more than cigarettes, at least partially because cigarillos are so much cheaper – under $1! Over 100 studies have shown that raising tobacco prices lowers teen smoking and inspires many smokers to quit. While discussing the evidence that price increases in 1982-83 had kept 600,000 teens from becoming smokers and convinced two million adults to quit, one tobacco executive wrote: “We don’t need to have that happen again.” The Surgeon General recommends a $10 minimum price for cigarettes, and a growing number of communities require minimum prices for cigars and/or cigarettes.
  • No Small Pack Sizes
    Federal law requires a minimum pack size of 20 for cigarettes to stop stores from selling single cigarettes (“loosies”) that make tobacco easier to get, but cigars are exempted. Single cigars are sold in local stores for well under $1, and packs of 2-6 cigars are nearly as cheap. For this reason, minimum pack size requirements are more effective when combined with minimum price policies.
  • No Tobacco Coupons
    Big Tobacco spends over $7 billion dollars a year to keep tobacco prices low, including over $300 million on coupons. They don’t spend all that money for no reason. Access to tobacco coupons makes youth more likely to become addicted and current smokers more likely to keep smoking. More communities are discovering that not allowing coupons, together with minimum prices and pack sizes, is an effective way to stop every manipulative pricing strategy tobacco companies use to attract youth and keep smokers addicted.
  • Stopping Electronic Cigarette Sales
    By now it is no secret that e-cigarettes (aka: vapes) are a major problem among underage youth. 20% of high school students use them, and disposable varieties, that sell for just a few dollars, are increasingly popular with teens. Youth who use e-cigarettes are much more likely to eventually try cigarettes – especially those who would not have smoked otherwise. For every smoker who uses e-cigarettes to attempt to quit, 80 youth become addicted to them. The vast majority of youth who use e-cigarettes get them from local stores. 31 cities and counties in the Bay Area have chosen to stop the sale of these very addictive products to protect their kids.
  • No Flavored Tobacco, Including Flavored Hookah
    California voters recently approved a law that ends the sale of many flavored tobacco products that youth prefer, including menthol cigarettes. However, exceptions were made for hookah, some cigars, and pipe tobacco. Youth who use hookah are more likely to try other tobacco and marijuana, but hookah continues to be sold in many communities with flavors like Aloha Mango, Blueberry Muffin, and Passionfruit Sangria. Over 120 cities and counties in California include hookah in their flavored policies.
  • Reducing Tobacco Retailers Around Low-Income Youth
    Low-income often minority areas have higher smoking rates, more tobacco retailers, cheaper prices, more cigarillo and menthol ads, and more advertising in areas clearly visible to young kids. Many communities are not allowing new tobacco retailers in these oversaturated areas; and requiring stores that sell tobacco to be 1,000 feet away from each other, schools and other areas where youth gather. Existing stores that violate these limits are allowed to continue to sell tobacco, but they cannot transfer their TRL to a new owner.
  • Ending the Sale of Tobacco in Pharmacies
    CVS and Target have recognized that selling tobacco products is inconsistent with the sale of medicine, while all other chain businesses that contain pharmacies continue to sell tobacco, often right next to FDA-approved products that help smokers quit. Some pharmacies are also selling tobacco to underage youth. (8% of pharmacies did so in 2018.) Nearly fifty California cities and counties have recognized the importance of keeping pharmacies free of tobacco and have included that requirement in their TRL.
  • No Local Deliveries of Tobacco Products
    Cities and counties are recognizing that allowing home delivery, or curbside pickup, of tobacco products increases the risk of youth access, and are not allowing those practices by local businesses in their communities.
  • No Criminalizing Youth
    The purpose of a Tobacco Retail License is to keep owners of tobacco retail outlets from selling to underage youth and reduce youth access to addictive tobacco products – not to punish teens for tobacco use. To ensure equitable practices, TRLs include a “Purchase, Use, Possession” (PUP) provision requiring that no youth will be penalized in any way for buying, having or using tobacco. Evidence also shows that penalizing youth for tobacco use is ineffective at keeping them away from tobacco.

TRLs limit tobacco sales in other ways that further protect kids:

Join LGBTQ Minus Tobacco in the fight to protect youth from tobacco in your community!

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