Licensing Tobacco Retailers to Protect Kids

Data shows it’s still surprisingly easy for Colorado youth to purchase tobacco products including e-cigarettes, cigarettes, and chew tobacco, from local stores.

Curb youth tobacco use by cracking down on illegal sales

Research shows that nearly 90 percent of all people who smoke daily begin by age 18 – even though it is illegal to sell tobacco to minors.1

How does this happen?

Shockingly, a survey of Colorado public school students found that 73 percent of Colorado youth who attempted to buy tobacco or vaping products in a store weren’t refused because of their age.2 In addition, 52 percent of Colorado high school students reported that tobacco vape products would be easy or very easy to get.2 Studies show that young people who perceive tobacco as easy to get are more likely to become tobacco users.3

How is Colorado protecting youth?

Colorado has a comprehensive statewide Tobacco Retail License policy in place to make sure that tobacco and vaping products aren’t sold to anyone under 21. Retailers receive two compliance checks per year, and those who do sell to minors could have their licenses suspended or revoked.4

Every day, Coloradans can play a part in protecting Colorado youth. Report retailers who sell tobacco or nicotine products to anyone younger than the age of 21 to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

Does requiring retailers to be licensed work?

Yes, according to data provided after several Colorado communities implemented local retailer licensing policies.The City of Lakewood reduced retailer violation rate by approximately 68% while Fort Morgan’s strong retailer enforcement reduced sales to minors, which reduced the overall cigarette supply to minors.5

In 2014, before Colorado’s statewide policy was in place, the city of Rocky Ford passed a tobacco retailer licensing policy that reduces underage sales by ensuring local enforcement of the law and providing education to retailers. Rocky Ford’s community and business leaders describe how this policy positively affected their community.


A great way to reduce tobacco’s deadly toll is to stop kids from ever starting to use it. A tobacco retailer licensing policy in your community is a big step in the right direction.

Other options for restricting youth access to tobacco products

Colorado’s statewide law requiring retailers to have a license to sell tobacco is important, but there is still more local communities can do to protect youth. Having a local tobacco retailer license policy can help communities succeed in passing additional tobacco policies to protect youth. It also provides a mechanism for better enforcement. Additional measures local communities can take include restricting flavored tobacco products and reducing the number of retailers close to schools, among others.  

Learn more about the positive impact of the T21 law in Colorado — which raised the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 and required retailer licensing. required retailer licensing.

2. Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, Colorado School of Public Health.
3. Doubeni, C. A., Li, W., Fouayzi, H., & Difranza, J. R. (2008). Perceived Accessibility as a Predictor of Youth Smoking. The Annals of Family Medicine, 6(4), 323-330. doi:10.1370/afm.841
4. Community Epidemiology & Program Evaluation Group (CEPEG). Review of State and Federal Retailer Violation Rates Pre and Post Tobacco Retailer Licensing Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado, Denver Colorado, October 2019.