Tackling Tobacco: January 2024 Legislative & Regulatory Roundup

The year starts off with a mixed bag of on-trend regulation, including mandatory tobacco retail licenses and stiffer penalties for selling tobacco to minors.
Melissa Kress
Executive Editor
Tobacco products

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.

COLORADO

Denver — A state Senate bill was introduced that would allow Colorado counties to regulate or prohibit the sale and distribution of flavored cigarettes, tobacco and nicotine products. A similar bill was introduced during the 2022 legislative session but it died in the Senate.

KENTUCKY

Frankfort — A new bill in the state House of Representatives would require tobacco/vape stores to be licensed by the state; it would also toughen penalties for stores that sell vape or tobacco products to minors. As of now, Kentucky is one of just 10 states that do not require tobacco or vape retailers to hold a license. Under the new law, retailer fines would start at $2,000; licenses would be revoked if stores are caught selling to minors three times.

MAINE

Augusta — A bill that clarifies the tax law definition of "tobacco product" to include any product that contains nicotine, extending the current excise tax to nicotine pouches, will be heard in the Joint Committee on Taxation in early February.

Another bill that prohibits the state Department of Health and Human Services from issuing a new or renewed retail tobacco license to a retailer operating within 1,000 feet of a school is scheduled for a hearing in the Joint Committee on Health and Human Services, also in early February.  The bill does not grandfather in existing license holders.

Hallowell — About 300 resident signatures supporting a ban on flavored tobacco products were delivered to the Hallowell City Hall in early January as the Hallowell City Council considers ending all flavored tobacco sales like other Maine communities, such as Portland and Bangor. After a public hearing, a final decision could come as early as February.

OHIO

Columbus — Local governments in Ohio can no longer regulate tobacco in their communities after the legislature overrode the governor's veto of a budget measure that puts regulation instead in the hands of the state. The measure, vetoed in 2022 before reappearing in the state budget, also prevents communities from voting to restrict things like flavored e-cigarettes and sales of flavored vaping products. It will take effect in April.

The Ohio House of Representatives voted to approve a bill that would raise the punitive fines for repeatedly selling tobacco products to consumers under the age of 21. It would mandate a minimum fine of $250 for a first violation, a fine up to $500 for the second, a mandatory $500 fine for the third, a mandatory $1,000 fine for the fourth and a mandatory $1,500 fine for the fifth. The bill now heads to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.

Oxford — On Jan. 1, the City of Oxford launched its Tobacco Retail Licensing (TRL) Program, which will begin enforcement on April 1, 2024. It requires all purveyors of tobacco and vapes to first obtain a license from the city. As part of the TRL Program, there is a restriction on the number of allowable vape and tobacco retailers within Oxford; it allows one vape/tobacco retailer per 1,500 inhabitants, based on the latest decennial census.

Additionally, retailers are prohibited from operating within 500 feet of youth-oriented facilities, as defined in its ordinances.

TEXAS

Killeen — The Killeen City Council approved a motion of direction to change the zoning rules and limit vape and smoke shops that sell tobacco products from being up to an unspecified distance from schools. Convenience stores, grocery stores and gas stations are excluded from the list of vape shops near schools, but the presentation attached to the agenda posits whether any ordinance should include them as well as vape shops. The measure will be brought up in a future council meeting for a final vote.

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