For non-smokers, the mention of roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco very well could conjure up images of cowboys rolling old-fashioned cigarettes beside a campfire. But that’s Hollywood. In real life, RYO tobacco sales still roll in for convenience stores because it continues to appeal to young and old, male and female.
Technically, RYO is loose cigarette tobacco that can be rolled into individual cigarettes. For years, as prices of and taxes on cigarette packs inched upward, loose tobacco offered smokers a more affordable alternative. That price-point advantage, however, went up in smoke with the passage of the 2012 federal transportation bill that enforced the same tax and regulatory parameters for both cigarettes and RYO. Still, there’s a select customer base that enjoys the ritual of rolling their own cigarettes.
Offered in various packaging sizes — the six-ounce option appears to be the premier choice —loose tobacco is either enclosed within a rolling paper or injected into a cigarette tube. Users can add tips or filters to either papers or tubes. Plus, RYO cigarettes can be made by hand or with rolling machines, available in manual or automatic models — automatic devices can produce a larger quantity in a shorter time.
Most c-stores do not stock rollers, but it makes sense to complement RYO sales with papers, tips and filters. In fact, rolling papers have undergone a bit of product innovation in recent years. Aiming to capture consumer interest in environmental impact and product origination, manufacturers began offering brands that are vegan and GMO-free. Specialty brands also promote being free from bleach, chlorine and dyes.
Of course, RYO is a member of the tobacco category, and therefore, c-store operators must adhere to a litany of municipal, state and federal restrictions. As directed under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been granted federal authority over tobacco products sold in the United States. RYO retail rules, per the FDA, match those of packaged cigarettes, including but not limited to:
- Only selling to customers age 21 or older.
- Checking photo ID of everyone under age 27 who attempts to purchase RYO.
- Not giving away free samples to consumers, including any components or parts.
- Not selling roll-your-own tobacco containing a characterizing flavor (except menthol or tobacco flavor).
- Not breaking open packages to sell products in smaller amounts.
- Not displaying advertisements without a warning statement.
While most in the c-store industry do not expect the RYO subcategory to stimulate substantial future growth, especially as the number of smokers nationwide continues to trend downward, rolling papers and other related accessories may broaden customer appeal as more states legalize adult recreational use of cannabis.