Battling California’s C-Store Tobacco Ban

Proposed bill would affect 11,540 convenience stores

Thomas A. Briant, NATO Executive Director


MINNEAPOLIS -- The National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) is engaging its retail members to oppose California Senate Bill 1400, which would ban the sale of tobacco products in all convenience stores, grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations and drug stores starting Jan. 1, 2019. This is a first-of-its-kind prohibition bill that would only allow tobacco product sales in retail stores that generate more than 60% of gross revenue from the sale of tobacco and tobacco accessories.

The most directly affected retailers will be the 11,540 convenience stores that operate in California, many being independent, family-owned businesses. According to the NACS, cigarettes and tobacco products account for 37.4% of in-store sales in a convenience store. There is no alternative product line to replace an immediate elimination of all tobacco product sales.

In a bill summary for SB 1400 issued by the California Office of Senate Floor Analyses, a claim is made that since “there are no age restrictions on entering a gas station or grocery store … tobacco products sold in these stores are visible and easily available for minors to purchase.”

This claim is inaccurate and false. Retailers are responsible business people that go to great lengths to prevent the sale of tobacco to underage youth. Retailers are not in the business of selling tobacco products to underage youth and to suggest otherwise is untrue and unfair.

Since January 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has conducted 16,884 tobacco-compliance inspections of California retailers and 96.6% of stores passed the inspections by not selling tobacco products to a minor. In addition, the California Department of Public Health has also conducted its own retail tobacco inspections and found a 92.4% compliance rate. In other words, the vast majority of retailers are part of the solution to keep tobacco out of the hands of underage youth, but SB 1400 would severely punish those very same retailers by denying them the right to sell legal tobacco products. 

The real problem is the reliance by underage youth on social sources to obtain tobacco products. The FDA just released the initial findings of its Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health study that found the vast majority of underage youth obtain tobacco products from “social sources,” namely older friends, siblings, parents and strangers. This FDA study confirms that retailers are not a part of the problem of underage youth access to tobacco, but SB 1400 fails to help solve the very real problem of social sources.

Besides activating its retail members in California to oppose this legislation, NATO is also sending letters to every California state senator and assembly member opposing Senate Bill 1400.