Tobacco

Local Tobacco Restrictions Multiply

Proposed ordinances projected to increase by 200 compared to last year

MINNEAPOLIS -- The number of local tobacco restrictions proposed at the city and county level continues to multiply and pose a significant threat to law-abiding retailers. Last year, there were 480 local tobacco ordinances proposed around the country to restrict or ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, impose minimum cigar package requirements, require minimum prices on cigars, increase the legal age to buy tobacco products, limit the number of retail licenses issued to sell tobacco products, and prohibit the sale of tobacco products by retailers within a certain distance from schools, parks and other youth-oriented facilities.

Based on the number of local tobacco ordinances introduced from Jan. 1 through July 31, it is estimated that there will be 675 local tobacco ordinances proposed during 2016, an increase of 200 ordinances compared to last year.

One of the major local regulatory trends is a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products. Cities in seven states have adopted flavor bans, including 60 cities and towns in Massachusetts, nine in California, six in Minnesota and New York, three in New Jersey and two in Illinois and Rhode Island.  

In addition, an increasing number of cities in these states have adopted an age requirement of 19 or 21 to buy tobacco products. So far this year, the number of towns and counties adopting a higher minimum-age ordinance is 128 in Massachusetts, followed by 19 in New Jersey, 10 in Kansas, eight in New York, five in Missouri and Ohio, three in Illinois, two in Arizona, Utah and Washington and one in Florida and Idaho. These minimum-age restrictions are in addition to California and Hawaii, which have enacted an age requirement of 21 to purchase tobacco across the respective states.

The real battleground over tobacco restrictions is now on the local level. In the past five years, the anti-tobacco advocates have been gradually shifting their emphasis from federal and state legislation to local tobacco ordinances.

The release of the FDA deeming regulations will only speed up the number of local ordinances because anti-tobacco advocates wanted the FDA to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and issue more restrictive regulations on e-cigarettes. The FDA has not done that because the agency wants scientific data from long-term studies to support further bans or restrictions so that it can win in court if new regulations are challenged.

The problem is that these anti-tobacco advocates and elected officials are not willing to wait for the FDA to act. The real irony is that passing these local restrictions will generally not reduce youth access to or use of tobacco products because the vast majority of retailers abide by the law and prevent the sale of tobacco to minors and there is a high level of reliance by youth on social sources for tobacco products including older friends, siblings, parents and even strangers.


Thomas A. Briant is executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO). He can be reached at (866) 869-8888 or info@natocentral.com.

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