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    Tackling Tobacco: March 2016 Legislative & Regulatory Roundup

    Vape shops, legal buying age and taxes under review.

    By Melissa Kress, Convenience Store News

    NATIONAL REPORT — Tobacco legislation and regulation is constantly under review at the local, state and federal levels. In this monthly roundup, Convenience Store News highlights the latest proposals and approved changes happening across the United States.


    San Francisco — The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to hike the minimum age to legally buy tobacco products to 21. The unanimous vote came at the board's March 2 meeting, and the ordinance takes effect June 1.

    Opponents to the measure argued that individual cities in California could not set a minimum legal age to buy tobacco products higher than the state minimum. However, the point may be moot because one week later, state legislators voted to increase the legal age to buy and use all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, from 18 to 21 statewide. This measure still needs Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. 

    Sonoma County — The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved regulations aimed at making cigarettes more expensive and more difficult for minors to obtain. Under the new laws, cigarettes must sell for a minimum of $7 a pack beginning Jan. 1, 2018. The measure makes the county the first local government in California to set a price floor for cigarettes.

    In addition, new regulations will require approximately 140 retailers outside city limits to purchase an annual tobacco retail license by July 1. The ordinance also classifies electronic cigarettes as tobacco products; bans new tobacco shops from opening within 1,000 feet of schools; and existing retailers near schools can only transfer their licenses to immediate family members. 


    Chicago — The Chicago City Council approved several of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's measures aimed at tobacco sales. The approved regulations hike the minimum legal buying age for tobacco products from 18 to 21; and set higher taxes including 20 cents per cigar, $1.80 per ounce for smokeless and smoking tobacco, and 60 cents per ounce for pipe tobacco.


    Boston — Massachusetts state lawmakers are considering a bill to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 years old. The move would mirror similar measures that have passed in municipalities across Massachusetts, including Boston. Those already between the ages of 18 and 21 would be allowed to continue buying tobacco, but anyone not yet 18 on the date the proposed law becomes effective would have to wait until age 21. The bill is now at the state Senate Ways and Means Committee.

    In addition, new regulations requiring child-resistant packaging for liquids and gels used in electronic cigarettes went into effect statewide on March 15.

    Falmouth — The Falmouth Board of Health gave the green light to regulation raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco and nicotine delivery products from 18 to 21. The new rule is expected to take effect in mid- to late-May. 


    Billings — The Montana Department of Revenue began retail inspections in March to make sure stores selling alternative nicotine or vapor products have a license to sell them. The license requirement took effect Jan. 1. To date, the department has issued roughly 680 alternative nicotine or vapor product licenses. About one-third of retail businesses licensed to sell tobacco have also applied to sell vapor products.


    Lincoln — Members of the state's Revenue Committee rejected a proposal to more than triple Nebraska's cigarette tax. Two state senators voted for it and six against it during an executive session. The bill, introduced by Sen. Mike Gloor (District 35) sought to raise the tax from 64 cents to $2.14 per pack. The excise tax rate on other tobacco products would have increased from 20 percent to 31 percent.


    Bismarck — North Dakota's Secretary of State Al Jaeger approved the "Raise It for Health North Dakota" coalition's bid to circulate a petition to increase the state's tobacco taxes. Supporters of an increase need 13,452 signatures by July 11 to place the initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot.

    If approved by voters, the measure would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes from 44 cents to $2.20. It also would increase the tax on other tobacco products, including liquid nicotine used in electronic cigarettes, from 28 percent to 56 percent of the wholesale purchase price. North Dakota's tobacco taxes have held steady since 1993.


    Providence — Rhode Island State Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-34th District) introduced legislation to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in the state from 18 to 21. The legislation would apply to all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, and would take effect Jan. 1, 2017.

    "Data tells us that nine out of 10 adult smokers began smoking before age 21. Reducing youth access to tobacco products will lower tobacco addiction and reduce tobacco-related death and disease. Raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 will benefit the individual and society as a whole," Tanzi said.

    She introduced similar legislation last year.


    Montpelier — The Vermont Senate is reviewing a bill that would restrict the use of electronic cigarettes where smoking is currently banned. The bill, known as H.171, is slated to appear on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee's April 1 agenda.

    The state's House of Representatives passed the bill on the third read on March 15.


    District of Columbia — The U.S. Department of Transportation finalized a rule that explicitly bans the use of electronic cigarettes on commercial flights. The final rule applies to all scheduled flights of U.S. and foreign carriers involving transportation in, to and from the United States.

    The final rule clarifies that the department's airline smoking rule prohibits the use of electronic cigarettes and similar products, in addition to the existing prohibition on the smoking of tobacco products. The new ban covers the use of electronic cigarettes in all forms, including but not limited to: electronic cigars, pipes, and devices designed to look like everyday products such as pens.

    The department also extended the ban on smoking, including electronic cigarettes, to all charter — or nonscheduled — flights of U.S. carriers and foreign air carriers where a flight attendant is a required crew member.  


    Olympia — The Washington State Senate voted in favor of a bill requiring companies selling vapor products to be licensed through the State Liquor & Cannabis Board. The measure now heads to the state House of Representatives for consideration. 

    The measure also includes provisions concerning certain child-resistant packaging; definitions related to "vapor product;" signage requirements prohibiting vapor product sales to minors; prohibition of the purchase and possession of vapor products by minors; preemption of certain local regulation of vapor products; and a requirement for vendor-assisted sales of vapor products in retail establishments. 


    Charleston — A bid to raise the state's cigarette excise tax died when a state House of Representatives committee voted down a bill to increase the levy by 45 cents to $1. The state Senate had previously approved a bill that called for a $1 increase to $1.55 a pack, higher taxes on other tobacco products, and an electronic cigarette levy. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had proposed the 45-cent increase and the other tobacco and e-cigarette taxes, worth $78 million annually, to help close a 2017 budget shortfall.


    Milwaukee — Gov. Scott Walker signed Assembly Bill 628 into law on March 22. This bill creates a complaint-driven procedure under which a retailer license to sell cigarette and tobacco products may be revoked, suspended or not renewed.

    "The bill we're signing into law today allows cities like Milwaukee to create a local process to deny or revoke a tobacco products retailer license similar to the process currently in place for alcohol licenses," Walker said. "This allows municipalities to root out the few bad actors that harbor crime and delinquency in their communities, and ultimately helps to reduce crime, improve neighborhood stability and promote economic development."

    Assembly Bill 628 establishes procedures for suspending, revoking or refusing to renew cigarette or tobacco products retailer licenses under specified circumstances. It was written by state Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills). The measure passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote. 

    By Melissa Kress, Convenience Store News
    • About Melissa Kress Melissa Kress joined Stagnito Business Information's Convenience Store News and Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner in November 2010. Her primary beats include alcoholic beverages and tobacco. Kress has been a professional journalist since 1995. A graduate of West Virginia University, she began her career in community journalism before moving to business-to-business publishing in 2000, covering commercial real estate.

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