Tobacco Retailers License

Changes Effective January 1, 2018

Be advised, by January 1, 2018, all retailers in El Cerrito must comply with the following provisions:
  • Minimum Age for Employees Selling (21 years old)
  • No Sale of Flavored Tobacco Products
  • No Sale of Single and Small-Pack Cigars, plus associated recordkeeping required for original labeling and packaging
The City’s Tobacco Retailer License Program went into effect on January 1, 2016. Download the adopted Ordinance.

Tobacco Retail License Applications

All retailers offering any tobacco products for sale in the City of El Cerrito are required to have a tobacco retailer license. The License Renewal Fee for 2017 is $439 per location. Penalties for late payments made after July 31 are assessed and increase monthly.

Apply for a New Tobacco Retail License
You will need to pay the license fee when you submit the application:
Download the Application for a New Tobacco Retail License PDF
Renew an Existing Tobacco Retail License
The annual license needs to be renewed in July each year.
You will need to pay the license renewal fee when you submit the application.
Renew your license online or download the 2017 Tobacco Retail License Renewal Form PDF.

Resources for Retailers

Program Summary Brochure (updated July 2016)
Tips for Measuring Display Area
Resources for Business Owners
Educational materials from California Department of Public Health

Please contact Margaret Kavanaugh-Lynch, Development Services Manager at 510-215-4360 with any questions.


The local licensing system for tobacco retailers is indented to achieve the following goals:
  1. Ensure responsible, legal sales of tobacco related products.
  2. Ensure that minors are not encouraged to use tobacco.
  3. Fund a local enforcement program for compliance monitoring
  4. Close gaps in Federal and State laws that do not yet address electronic cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems and other products marketed to youth

Tobacco retailer license required:

The ordinance requires every tobacco retailer to have a city tobacco retailer license. The annual license fee is intended to cover the actual costs for the City to conduct compliance checks and enforcement operations, issue annual license and administer the program overall.

A “tobacco retailer” is any person or business that sells tobacco, tobacco products, electronic smoking devices, smoking paraphernalia, or any combination thereof.

Business standards:

Based on best practices and other input, the proposed ordinance includes the following business standards:
  • Prohibit sale of flavored non-cigarette tobacco products, including cigars, cigarillos, smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco, hookah tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco, dipping tobacco, bidis, blunts, electronic smoking devices and the nicotine solutions used in these devices, or any other preparation of tobacco that is flavored.
  • Prohibit sale of single cigars, small-pack cigars (Exception: single cigars priced over $5 each)
  • Prohibit self-service displays of tobacco products
  • Prohibit employees younger than the Minimum Legal Sale Age (MLSA) from engaging in the sales transaction of tobacco products
  • Prohibit distribution of tobacco samples & coupons
New businesses would need to comply right away; Existing tobacco retailers have until January 1, 2018 to comply with new business standards.

Prohibited Store Types

As proposed, the ordinance will prohibit these business types from opening in El Cerrito:
  • Cigar Lounge
  • Hookah Lounge
  • Vape Shop
  • Any store where tobacco consumption or use of electronic smoking device occurs
  • New Tobacco Retailer with more than 20% of display area devoted to tobacco products &/or smoking paraphernalia or 50% or more of gross sales receipts are derived from tobacco products or smoking paraphernalia ( aka a “Significant Tobacco Retail Establishment”)
Current retailers operating a Significant Tobacco Retail Establishment would be able to apply for an exception in order to be able to continue to operate as a Significant Tobacco Retail Establishment at their current levels, for up to ten years so long as they obtain and renew the required tobacco retailer license and limit access into their store to persons age 18 and older. After the ten year period, the retailer would need to limit the display area in the store devoted to tobacco products &/or smoking paraphernalia to less than 20% and have less than 50% of gross receipts derived from the sale of tobacco products or smoking paraphernalia.

Separation requirements:

Research shows that children are more likely to experiment with tobacco products when tobacco retailers are located near schools. Restricting tobacco sales around schools or other areas frequented by youth can help reduce youth initiation. Another typical separation requirement is limiting proximity of tobacco retailers to one another in order to prevent a concentration of tobacco retailers in an area. A high density of tobacco retailers has been associated with increased smoking rates, particularly among youth.

The ordinance establishes new separation requirements between tobacco retailers and schools, parks, recreation facilities and other tobacco retailers:
  • Schools – 500 foot buffer
  • Parks – 500 foot buffer (excluding the Ohlone Greenway)
  • Recreation facilities – 500 foot buffer
  • Other tobacco retailers – 1,000 foot buffer
Current retailers will be exempt from the separation requirements and new businesses may apply for an exception to the store-to-store buffer.


Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death and disease in California, killing nearly 40,000 Californians every year. The 2012 Surgeon General’s Report found that about 90 percent of all smokers first tried cigarettes as teens; and that about three of every four teen smokers continue into adulthood. Further, young adults, ages 18 to 24 have the highest smoking prevalence among any age group according to the California Department of Public Health. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nationally, e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014.

Studies have shown that limiting where tobacco is sold can curtail youth access to tobacco products, target enforcement of the licensing provisions, and combat social perceptions that tobacco use is normal or acceptable. Requiring a local tobacco retailer license generally increases compliance rates of tobacco sales laws and provides revenue to cover administration of license and enforcement efforts.

During the discussion regarding the Smoking Pollution Protection Ordinance in 2014, the City Council directed staff to also develop an ordinance to address regulating the sales of tobacco by businesses in El Cerrito. Staff from the City Manager’s Office, Community Development and the Police Department have met multiple times regarding development of a tobacco retailer license program. Staff has researched best practices in other communities as well as researched the location and business type of current tobacco retailers in El Cerrito, worked with the Contra Costa Tobacco Prevention Coalition (“Coalition”), and ChangeLab Solutions (a national, nonpartisan nonprofit), as well as gathered feedback from the public.

In October and November of 2014, the Planning Commission heard staff presentations and public comment, and also discussed aspects of proposed tobacco retailer license program. Around this time, staff also outreached to existing tobacco retailers through a survey and meeting notices.

On January 20, 2015, City Council held a study session about the proposed tobacco retailer license program and provided direction to staff.

In April, the Planning Commission held a public hearing to consider making a recommendation on the proposed ordinance. There was discussion but no consensus and the matter was continued to a future meeting.

On May 20, 2015, the Planning Commission held a public hearing and made a recommendation about the proposed Tobacco Retailer Licensing Program. You can access the agenda, e-packet and minutes from the Planning Commission webpage.

On September 15, 2015, the City Council passed the first reading of the ordinance. Download the staff report and ordinance. Watch the September 15, 2015 City Council Meeting.

The El Cerrito City Council adopted the Tobacco Retailer License Program at their meeting on October 6, 2015. Download the adopted Ordinance