Do I Need a License to Sell Tobacco Products?

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To legally sell any type of tobacco product in the United States, you need a license. Most vendors can secure the appropriate license from their local and state governments. In some cases, agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigate cases of illegal tobacco diversion, which can lead to incarceration and hefty fines.

Age Requirements

In the United States, people buying any type of tobacco product or paraphernalia, such as rolling papers or pipes, must be at least 18 years old. Vendors who fail to check photo identification cards to validate the ages of customers who might be under the age of 18 are subject to fines; in New York City, such fines begin at $1,000. Also, anyone handling or selling tobacco must be at least 18 years of age.

Licensing Application Basics

If you operate a business in Mississippi and wish to sell tobacco, you must apply for a license through the state Department of Revenue. As of 2011, there is no cost to apply for a Mississippi tobacco retail license, but vendors must charge taxes of 85 cents per pack of 25 cigarettes. New York City vendors apply for licensing through the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs; as of 2011, the cost for tobacco retail applications ranged from $85 to $110.

Required Documentation

Documentation requirements for a tobacco licensing application depend upon your city and state of business operations. Some states like Mississippi merely request basic personal and business identifying information, such as names, addresses, and tax identification numbers. New York City officials demand extensive documentation, including proof of being current on any child support obligations, evidence of home address and proof of business address.

Additional Considerations

Federal laws bar sales of clove-flavored, candy-flavored and fruit-flavored cigarettes. Only tobacco bars can sell loose tobacco products with chocolate, fruit, honey, vanilla, herb, dessert, spice or alcohol flavors. No establishment can legally sell single cigarettes. Most states, including Wisconsin, Mississippi and New York, require vendors to post signage that tobacco sales to people under the age of 18 are prohibited. This rule also applies to any tobacco vending machines, which generally must be located in establishments such as bars. All tobacco products sold must remain in their original containers; federal laws also require any tobacco product sold carry a warning about the potential health risks of usage including cancer.

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