Tobacco Licensing Laws in California

The state Licensing Act of 2003, established a state licensing program for tobacco manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers administered by the State Board of Equalization. (Stats. 2003, ch. 890, 1; Sen. Com. on Judiciary, Analysis of Assem. Bill No. 71 (2003-2004 Reg. Sess.) as amended June 19, 2003, p. 1; see 22970.1, subd. (d).) In its legislative findings and declarations, the state Licensing Act specifies that the "licensing of these tobacco- related entities will help stem the tide of untaxed distributions and illegal sales of cigarettes and tobacco products." ( 22970.1, subd. (d).) The state Licensing Act of 2003 includes a section on administrative penalties that the State Board of Equalization can assess on tobacco retailers for violating the expressly referenced STAKE Act or Penal Code section 308. (Bus. & Prof. Code, 22974.8.) These penalties start, for a first violation, with a warning about license suspension or revocation; proceed to respective fines of $ 500 and $ 1,000 for second and third violations within 12 months; and progress to a 90-day suspension of the retailer's state license to sell tobacco products for the fourth through seventh violations within 12 months, and to license revocation for the eighth violation within 24 months (these penalties apply only if a specified survey shows that at least 13 percent of youth are able to purchase cigarettes). ( 22974.8, subds. (a)(1), (b), (d).) The state Licensing Act of 2003 has a general provision on preemption. It specifies: "Nothing in this act preempts or supersedes any local tobacco control law other than those related to the collection of state taxes. Local licensing laws may provide for the suspension or revocation of the local license for any violation of a state tobacco control law." ( 22971.3.)