How Retailers Can Respond to Local Tobacco Issues

NATO suggests engagement with elected officials, trade associations

Thomas A. Briant, NATO Executive Director


Unlike the vast majority of state legislatures that meet for a limited number of months in any given year, local governments like city councils and town boards meet year round. This means that local governments consider proposed tobacco regulations throughout the year and the number of cities and towns that have enacted tobacco regulations has been increasing not only in number, but also in degree of restrictiveness.

In many cases, advocates will urge local city councils and town boards to adopt a particular kind of tobacco regulation and then take the issue to the state legislature after local governments have set a precedent for imposing the restriction. This is why it is so important for tobacco retailers to oppose a local tobacco regulation because it could become a statewide issue.

The kind of local ordinances that NATO has monitored and responded to include raising the legal age to buy tobacco products, imposing minimum cigar package sizes and minimum cigar prices, banning flavored tobacco products, attempting to ban all tobacco product sales, restricting tobacco advertisements, prohibiting the sale of tobacco products within a certain number of feet from schools and playgrounds, and limiting the number of retailers in a city that can sell tobacco. Sometimes, many of these restrictions are all included in a single local tobacco proposal, making the impact on retailers that much more negative.

The best method for retailers to effectively respond to local tobacco regulations is to take action even before a proposal is brought to local government officials. First, retailers should determine the names of the local elected officials by searching the city or town’s website. Then, retailers need to invite elected officials to visit their store, explain how their retail business operates, tell them the kind of laws and regulations that your employees need to comply with, and reassure them that responsible compliance with the law is an on-going effort. Establishing personal contact with elected officials helps ensure that they will listen to your concerns when a local regulation is proposed.

If a tobacco regulation has already been proposed, retailers need to obtain a copy of the proposal directly from the city or town clerk, and determine if and when a hearing will be held on the proposal. Then, the proposed regulation should be reviewed to thoroughly understand what the impact will be on a retail store.

The next important step is to personally speak with or send a letter or e-mail message to local elected officials and described how the regulation will the impact sales, employees’ jobs, and your business overall. While it may go without saying, a retailer should request that the elected officials oppose the ordinance or regulation because of the negative impact on local stores.

Also, retailers should contact any state or national trade associations that they are a member of and request assistance in responding to the proposed ordinance or legislation. NATO focuses all of its resources on local, state and federal tobacco legislation and assists retailers respond to proposed regulations at every level of government.

To expand the grassroots effort to oppose a regulation, retailers should provide the telephone number and e-mail addresses of local elected officials to employees and customers and encourage them to call and send e-mail messages to the elected officials to express their concerns about the proposal. Finally, it is very important to attend the city council or town board meeting and testify in opposition to the local restriction.