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How To Get a Tobacco License [4 Steps]

A key part of success in any business? Planning ahead.

When opening a tobacco store, planning ahead means pursuing a tobacco license. You can’t sell cigarettes or tobacco products in most states without a license – so before you start setting up your store or ordering products, get your ducks in a row.

You’ll need to factor in the cost of a license, what’s required of you, the documentation you need, and how long an application takes.

It might seem like a daunting process, but we’re here to help! This blog post will detail how to get a tobacco license and break the application down into clear steps, so you can start selling.

A Simple Step-by-Step Guide: How To Get a Tobacco License

The last thing you need as a new tobacco store owner is a hefty fine and possible suspension from selling products. And while it might feel like an arduous task, obtaining your tobacco license and following the laws set out by your state is far less stressful than dealing with the repercussions of not having one.

You need a license if you sell tobacco products, including vape sticks and other next-generation tobacco products.

The application process doesn’t take long, but you might have to wait for it to be approved. Ensure you get to it in plenty of time before you open your store. Don’t risk opening up and waiting for your license to come through.

Step 1. Find Out Which Licenses You Need

Before you begin the application process, determine your necessary licenses and permits. All states have the legal authority to require one, but some are less strict than others. Refer to the CDC STATE System Licensure Fact Sheet to see if your state requires you to obtain a license before selling tobacco.

Your state’s governing board or revenue department often has the information you need and lets you know of any pre-application requirements, such as local business licenses, citizenship verification forms, and if they require you to submit to a background investigation.

Get the correct license. In Chicago, for example, you need a Tobacco Dealer License. In New York City, you need a Tobacco Retail Dealer License. These are essentially the same thing, but you need to be sure of the availability in your state.

Pro tip: Many cities have passed ordinances requiring tobacco retailers to obtain a local license in addition to the state-required license.

Step 2. Prepare and Submit Your Application

Determine and collect the forms and documents required by your state or municipality. These might include:

  • License application
  • Sales Tax identification number
  • Proof of business and home address
  • License Fee
  • Any other documents required by your state

Generally, you submit your application online, but some states require you to submit your application in person. Prepare to pay a fee of anywhere from $10 to $1000.

Why is there such a discrepancy between states? State authorities hope that an increase in license fees will discourage retailers from purchasing one.

In most cases, authorities review applications within two weeks and issue licenses after two to four weeks.

Step 3: Follow Guidelines and Display Your License

Having your license doesn’t mean you’re automatically covered. You’ll have a set of requirements to follow, again, depending on state law.

For example, you’ll need to prominently display your license for the public to see. If you don’t, you’re liable for penalties and the possible suspension of your license.

Using California as an example, you need to:

  • Allow authorities to see proof of your license.
  • Keep eligible purchase invoices for four years.
  • Keep purchase invoices at each licensed location for at least one year.
  • Allow relevant authorities access to your invoices upon request.
  • Purchase and sell only cigarettes and roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco authorized for sale in California.
  • Purchase cigarettes and tobacco products only from California licensed distributors or wholesalers.

Follow the laws and mandates laid out by your state. In most states, you cannot sell tobacco products to minors under 21, including military personnel.

Step 4: License Renewal

You’ll need to renew your license every year or every two years. If you haven’t committed any violations and incurred fines or penalties, renewal is a simple process.

We outlined the fines you can expect in our article How Much Is A Tobacco License, and in this tightly-regulated industry, be prepared for compliance checks and inspections. The FDA carries out inspections such as Undercover Buy Inspections – you won’t know an inspection is taking place. The minor and inspector will not identify themselves. Be vigilant.

Learn more about federal tobacco regulations and guidance on selling and marketing tobacco products.

You Know How to Get a Tobacco License: What’s Next?

After you get your license and you’re ready to order tobacco products and start selling, your next step should be to choose a point of sale (POS) system that can help you comply with regulations and manage your store.

POS Nation works with hundreds of tobacco stores and cigar lounges and provides a dedicated tobacco store POS system. It’s feature-rich with carton-pack inventory tracking, age verification, and prebuilt reports. Our POS system provides the peace of mind you need to take total control of your business.

Find out more about the features your Tobacco Store POS needs and know the right questions to ask when considering your options with our Tobacco Store POS Buyers’ Guide.


Ready To Get Started? Call us at 877-727-3548

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