Overview of Tobacco Retailer License Program

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


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.


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.


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. 


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)
  • 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.