Cigarette & Tobacco Products Licensing Act of 2003 - Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Do I need a license to sell cigarettes and/or tobacco products?
  2. How do I apply for a license?
  3. What is the cost of the license?
  4. Do I need a separate license for each of my retail locations, or is one license for all of my retail locations sufficient?
  5. Do I have to renew my license?
  6. Can our corporate office apply for licenses for all of our retail locations, or does each retail location have to apply separately?
  7. Do I have to display the license?
  8. Who is enforcing this law?
  9. Who will be checking to see if I have a license?
  10. What will happen if I do not obtain a license?
  11. What types of products are covered under the law?
  12. What are the new requirements for cigarettes and tobacco wholesalers, distributors, manufacturers or importers that impact retailers?
  13. Can a city or county require a retailer to obtain another license or permit to sell cigarettes or tobacco products even though one is already required by the State?
  14. Do I have to apply separately for my local county or city license? How do I do that?
  15. How do I find out more information about the new age limit for selling cigarettes, tobacco products, or electronic smoking devices?
  16. I operate a medical cannabis dispensary. Do I need a Cigarette and Tobacco Products Retailer License?

  1. Do I need a license to sell cigarettes and/or tobacco products?

Yes, you must have a cigarette and tobacco retail license to sell cigarettes and tobacco products to the public from a retail location in California. There are severe penalties of up to $5,000, or up to one year imprisonment in the county jail, or both the fine and imprisonment if you are caught selling cigarettes or tobacco products without a cigarette and tobacco retail license (Business and Professions Code sections 22972 (a), 22980.1 (h) and 22981).

As of June 9, 2016, state law expanded the definition of a tobacco product, for cigarette and tobacco products retail licensing purposes, to include:

  • Any product containing, made, or derived from tobacco or nicotine that is intended for human consumption.
  • Any electronic smoking or vaping device that delivers nicotine or other vaporized liquids.
  • Any component, part, or accessory of a tobacco product, whether or not sold separately.

Examples include, but are not limited to, electronic cigarettes, atomizers, vaping tanks or mods, and eLiquid or eJuice. A tobacco product does not include products that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved as cessation products or for other therapeutic purposes (e.g., nicotine patches).

Effective January 1, 2017, any retailer who sells any products included in the expanded definition of a tobacco product, is required to obtain and maintain a retailer license from the BOE in order to engage in the retail sale of those products.

  1. How do I apply for a license to sell cigarettes and tobacco products?

You may register for a cigarette and tobacco products license, or account using online registration. Online registration is the convenient way to register and is available 24 hours a day.

  1. What is the cost of the license?

See our tax and fee rates page for the current license fee amount.

The retailer license costs $100 per location. The cost is a one-time fee (Business and Professions Code sections 22972 (a) and 22973 (d)).

  1. Do I need a separate license for each of my retail locations, or is one license for all of my retail locations sufficient?

You must obtain a license for each retail location you own or operate. For example, if you operate in several different locations and each sells cigarettes or tobacco products, or any product containing, made, or derived from nicotine that is intended for human consumption; any electronic smoking or vaping device that delivers nicotine or other vaporized liquids; or any component, part, or accessory of a tobacco product, whether or not sold separately, you must obtain a separate license for each retail location. However, you may submit a single application for multiple locations, and include the application fee for each location's license (Business and Professions Code section 22972 (a), 22973(d), and 22973.3(d)). See our tax and fee rates page for the current license fee amount.

  1. Do I have to renew my license?

Yes. The cigarette and tobacco retail license must be renewed annually. Beginning January 1, 2017, you will be required to pay an annual renewal fee for each retail location (Business and Professions Code sections 22972 (d), 22973 (e), and 22973.3 (e)). If you fail to renew your license(s) timely, your license(s) will be closed out. Please remember that you may not sell cigarette and/or tobacco products, including any product containing, made, or derived from nicotine that is intended for human consumption; any electronic smoking or vaping device that delivers nicotine or other vaporized liquids; or any component, part, or accessory of a tobacco product, whether or not sold separately, without a valid Cigarette and Tobacco Products Retailer License.

  1. Can our corporate office apply for licenses for all of our retail locations, or does each retail location have to apply separately?

A corporate office may submit a single application for all of its retail locations, but the appropriate information (addresses, etc.) must be stated on the application along with the submission of the fee for each retail location (Business and Professions Code sections 22972 (a), 22973 (d), and 22973.3 (d)).

  1. Do I have to display the license?

Yes. Business and Professions Code section 22972 (b) requires retailers to conspicuously display their cigarette and tobacco products retailer license at each retail location in a manner visible to the public. If retailers fail to display the license, they are liable for a penalty of $500 for each offense (Business and Professions Code section 22974.5) and their license may ultimately be subject to suspension and revocation.

  1. Who is enforcing this law?

The State Board of Equalization, the Office of the Attorney General and any law enforcement officer in the state has enforcement authority.

  1. Who will be checking to see if I have a license?

Licensing will be monitored by the State Board of Equalization, the Department of Health Services, and local authorities.

  1. What will happen if I do not obtain a license?

If you do not obtain a license and continue to sell cigarettes or tobacco products or any product containing, made, or derived from nicotine that is intended for human consumption; any electronic smoking or vaping device that delivers nicotine or other vaporized liquids; or any component, part, or accessory of a tobacco product, whether or not sold separately, you will be subject to fines of up to $5,000 or imprisonment up to one year, or both the fine and imprisonment (Business and Professions Code sections 22980.1 (h) and 22981).

  1. What types of products are covered under the law?

You must obtain a license if you sell any type of tobacco products (Business and Professions Code sections 22972 (a)). These include cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco, etc., as defined by Revenue and Taxation Code sections 30003, 30121(a) ) and (b), and 30131.1(a) and (b).

Beginning January 1, 2017, any retailer who sells any product containing, made, or derived from nicotine that is intended for human consumption; any electronic smoking or vaping device that delivers nicotine or other vaporized liquids; or any component, part, or accessory of a tobacco product, whether or not sold separately, will also be required to obtain and maintain a Cigarette and Tobacco Products Retailers License. Examples include, but are not limited to, electronic cigarettes, atomizers, vaping tanks or mods, and eLiquid or eJuice. A tobacco product does not include products that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved as cessation products or for other therapeutic purposes (e.g. nicotine patches).

  1. What are the requirements for cigarette and tobacco product wholesalers, distributors, manufacturers or importers that impact retailers?

Pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 22980.1, no cigarette manufacturer, distributor, wholesaler or importer is permitted to sell or distribute cigarettes or tobacco products to retailers who are not licensed or have had their license suspended or revoked. Additionally, retailers are not permitted to purchase cigarettes or tobacco products from an unlicensed cigarette or tobacco wholesaler, distributor or importer. Please note that this purchasing requirement does not apply to any product containing, made, or derived from nicotine that is intended for human consumption; any electronic smoking or vaping device that delivers nicotine or other vaporized liquids; or any component, part, or accessory of a tobacco product, whether or not sold separately, as there are currently no licensing requirements for distributors, wholesalers, or importers of these types of products. Retailers that fail to comply with these requirements are subject to a fine of up to $5,000 for each offense, or imprisonment of up to one year, or both the fine and imprisonment (Business and Professions Code section 22981). Additionally, failure to comply with these provisions is a misdemeanor under Revenue and Taxation Code section 30478.

  1. Can a city or county require a retailer to obtain another local license or permit to sell cigarettes or tobacco products even though one is already required by the State?

Yes. Business and Professions Code section 22971.3 permits cities and counties to enact local tobacco retail licensing requirements that may include annual fees and provide for the suspension or revocation of the local license for any violation of a state tobacco control law.

  1. Do I have to apply separately for my local county or city license? How do I do that?

Prospective licensees should consult with their local health department before applying for a California Cigarette and Tobacco Products Retailer License to determine if there is a local licensing requirement in their community and to learn how to comply with its requirements. In some cases, local licensing requirements may be more restrictive than state licensing requirements. Visit the CalGold website for help with permit and licensing requirements for local authorities as well as other state or federal authorities.

  1. How do I find out more information about the new age limit for selling cigarettes, tobacco products, or electronic smoking devices?

Visit the Tobacco 21 webpage for more information about the new landmark California Tobacco 21 law.

  1. I operate a medical cannabis dispensary. Do I need a Cigarette and Tobacco Products Retailer License?

This law does not affect any laws or regulations regarding medical cannabis.