2018 Tobacco Legislative Roundup

This year’s tobacco legislative roundup outlines how state and local regulations continue to impact the c-store space.

Now that all but 13 state legislatures have concluded their 2018 legislative sessions, Thomas Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO), sat down with us to discuss the outcome of state tobacco legislation across the country as well as ongoing local regulations retailers must contend with.

Convenience Store Decisions (CSD): In the past couple of years, bills were introduced in approximately one-half of the state legislatures seeking to increase either cigarette or tobacco product taxes, but only one or two states actually enacted these higher tax rates. Is this trend holding true so far in 2018?
Thomas Briant (TB): In 2018, numerous state legislatures considered legislation to raise taxes. This year, the state legislatures that considered some type of tax increases were Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

- Advertisement -

So far, only two states have passed legislation on cigarette tax increases. These states are Oklahoma (increasing the tax on cigarettes by $1 per pack) and Kentucky (raising the tax on cigarettes by 50 cents per pack). Both tax increases become effective July 1, 2018.

CSD: Are many state legislatures considering flavor ban legislation?
TB: In 2018, only New Jersey and New York have considered banning flavored tobacco products. Of special note, the New Jersey state legislature is reviewing a first of its kind statewide ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes. The legislation to ban flavored tobacco products in each state hasn’t passed and is still under consideration.

CSD: It appears the tobacco age 21 purchase requirement is gaining more momentum. Have many state legislatures considered bills to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products?
TB: Yes, more so than what we saw in 2017. Local governments within states are increasingly taking up the initiative to raise the purchase age of tobacco products to 21. At this point in 2018, 23 state legislatures have considered or are reconsidering legislation from 2017 that would increase the purchase age for tobacco.

Out of the 23 states that considered legal age increases, the legislation in 18 of those states has been defeated, missed procedural deadlines to move forward, or held for further study. Those states include Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and West Virginia.

States that are still considering legislation to increase the legal age include Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. As a reminder, there are currently five states and the District of Columbia that have passed an age 21 purchasing requirement for tobacco products which include California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Oregon. Three of these states (Maine, New Jersey and Oregon) passed their increases in 2017. No additional state legislatures in 2018 have passed an age increase for tobacco product purchases.

CSD: What are the most common tobacco ordinances passed at the local level in 2018 thus far?
TB: In a reversal of trends from last year, the most prevalent local regulation in 2018 has been increases in the purchase age to 21. As of May 2018, approximately 300 localities nationwide have passed an age 21 purchase requirement since the higher legal age initiatives began. Thus far, the top five states with the greatest number of local governments that have passed this type of local ordinance are: Massachusetts (172) localities; New Jersey (28) localities; Illinois (22) localities; Kansas (20) localities and New York (19) localities.

Also, the last part of 2017 and the first half of 2018 saw more local governments continue to pass restrictions on the sale of menthol, mint and wintergreen tobacco products. Larger cities that have recently passed restrictions on the sale of these products include St. Paul, Minn. and Oakland, Calif. On June 5, 2018, voters in San Francisco will take to the ballot box to decide whether to uphold a previously passed ordinance banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, mint and wintergreen products.