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Minimum Age

Customers must be 21 years or older to purchase tobacco products, e-cigarettes and e-vapor products (See Restricted Products section). Sellers of restricted products must check the identification of all restricted product purchasers that reasonably appear to be under 21 years of age.

See an FAQ for Retailers provided by the California Department of Public Health.

Minimum-age of retail employees:  State law does not specify a minimum age. However, many counties and cities have restrictions. See this list provided by the California Deptartment of Public Health.


Deny sales to anyone under 21 years old for FDA regulated products (SEE Restricted Products section).

Note:  The new federal 21 year minimum-age for FDA regulated products of all tobacco and vaping products (SEE Restricted Products section) was declared immediately effective on December 20, 2019.  This law allows for no exceptions.

You must Check photo ID of everyone appearing under age 30 who attempts to purchase FDA regulated products and verify the customer is of legal age to purchase. This is an each-and-every time requirement (even if you know the person to be of legal are.) If you "carded" them yesterday, you must "card" them again today!

Decline a sale when the customer is underage, has no photo ID, the photo ID contains no date-of-birth or the photo ID has expired.

Restricted Products

Any substance containing or derived from tobacco leaf or nicotine, including, but not limited to cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco, dipping tobacco, or any other products  prepared from tobacco intended for human consumption in any manner (e.g., smoked, ingested, heated, chewed, absorbed, inhaled, snorted, sniffed). Restricted products also include electronic devices that deliver nicotine or other vaporized liquids including but not limited to electronic cigarettes, cigars, pipes or hookah. Restricted Products also include any component, part, accessory, instrument or paraphernalia designed for the smoking ingestion, or inhalation of Restricted Products (such as cigarette papers or wrappers, blunt wraps, pipes, holders of smoking materials of all types and cigarette rolling machines.)

No person shall sell, offer for sale, distribute, or import any product commonly referred to, or marketed, as "bidis" or "beedies," unless that product is sold, offered for sale, or intended to be sold in a business establishment that prohibits the presence of persons under 21 years of age on its premises.


FDA regulations apply to these tobacco products defined under the Tobacco Control Act as any product made or derived from tobacco or containing nicotine from any source (e.g., synthetic nicotine) that is intended for human consumption.

  • Cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, and roll-your-own tobacco
    • Do NOT break open cigarette packages to sell products in smaller amounts.
    • Do NOT sell single cigarettes, also called "loosies."
    • Do NOT sell cigarette packages containing fewer than 20 cigarettes.
    • Do NOT sell flavored cigarettes, cigarette tobacco or roll-your-own tobacco (other than menthol or tobacco.)
    • Only sell in a direct face-to-face exchange*.
  • Smokeless tobacco
    • Do NOT break open packages to sell products in smaller amounts.
    • Only sell in a direct face-to-face exchange*.
    • Do NOT sell without a health warning label.
  • Cigars
  • Hookah & Pipe tobacco
  • Dissolvable tobacco products
  • Nicotine gels
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS), which are products such as:
    • e-cigarettes
    • e-hookah
    • ecigars
    • vape pens
    • advanced refillable personal vaporizers
    • electronic pipes
    • Components and Parts, such as:
      • e-liquids**
      • atomizers
      • batteries (with or without variable voltage)
      • cartomizers (atomizer plus replaceable fluid-filled cartridge)
      • digital display/lights to adjust settings
      • clearomisers
      • tank systems
      • flavors
      • vials that contain e-liquids
      • programmable software
  • Do NOT give away free samples of any of these FDA regulated products or components and parts.  EXCEPTION:  Free samples of smokeless tobacco are only allowed in a "qualified adult-only facility" -- where no person younger than 21 is permitted to enter or be present (or a higher minimum-age if your state or locality has a higher age limit.)
  • Do NOT sell in vending machines UNLESS you operate a "qualified adult-only facility" -- where no person younger than 21 is permitted to enter or be present (or a higher minimum-age if your state or locality has a higher age limit.) Some state laws prohibit tobacco product vending machines. Check your state law.

EXCLUDED from FDA regulation are accessories, such as:  ashtrays, spittoons, hookah tongs, cigar clips and stands, pipe pouches, humidors.

* The sale of cigarettes, cigarette tobacco and smokeless tobacco through vending machines and self-service displays are allowed ONLY in adult-only facilities where no person younger than 21 is permitted to enter or be present (or a higher minimum-age if your state or locality has a higher age limit.)

** Retail establishments, such as vape shops, that mix and/or prepare e-liquids or assemble vaporizers are considered "tobacco product manufacturers."  Many separate regulations will apply.  See FDA regulations for tobacco product manufacturers at

Acceptable Forms of Identification

A valid document issued by a federal, state, county, or municipal  government, or subdivision or agency thereof, including, but not limited to, a motor vehicle operator's license, a registration certificate issued under the federal Selective Service Act, or an identification card issued to a member of the Armed Forces which contains the name, date, birth, description, and photograph of the individual. 

See information on California driver's licenses as provided by the California Department of Public Health.


Unless otherwise required by state or local law, FDA recommends that retailers accept only government-issued photographic identification with the bearer’s date of birth. (e.g., State-issued driver’s license or identification card, military identification card, passport or immigration card) for establishing a legal age to purchase FDA regulated products. The Photo ID is not acceptable if it has expired.

Fine/Penalty Schedule for Selling to Minors

Any person, firm or corporation that sells, gives, or in any way furnishes to another  person who is under the age of 21 years any Restricted Product is subject to: (1) a  civil penalty between $400 and $600 for the first offense, (2) a civil penalty between $900 to $1,000 for the second offense within a 5 year period, (3) a civil penalty  between $1,200 to $1,800 for a third offense within a 5 year period, (4) a civil  penalty between $3,000 and $4,000 for a fourth offense within a 5 year period, or (5)  a civil penalty between $5,000 and $6,000 for a fifth or subsequent offense within a 5  year period.

Under the Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement Act ("STAKE Act"), any  person failing to post conspicuously and keep posted the proper signage shall be  subject to a civil penalty in the amount of $200 for the first offense, and $500  for each additional violation.  In addition, any person convicted of violating the  California criminal code mandating state signage may be punished by a fine of $50  for the first offense, $100 for a second offense, $250 for a third offense and $500 for  any subsequent offense, or by imprisonment in a county jail for up to 30 days.

Any person who violates the section regarding the sale of “bidis” or "beedies" is  guilty of a misdemeanor or will be subject to a civil action brought by the Attorney  General, a city attorney, county counsel, or district attorney for an injunction and a civil penalty of up to $2,000 per violation.

The State Board of Equalization shall take the following  action against a retailer convicted of a violation:

Upon the first conviction, the retailer shall receive a warning letter explaining the  circumstances under which a retailer's license may be suspended or revoked and  the amount of time the license may be suspended or revoked. The retailer and its employees shall receive training on restricted products from the Department of  Health Services upon a first conviction. For the second conviction within 12 months,  the retailer shall be subject to a fine of $500; for the third conviction of a violation  within 12 months, the retailer shall be subject to a fine of $1,000; for the fourth  through seventh conviction of a violation, the board shall suspend the retailer's  license to sell restricted products for 90 days; for the eighth conviction  of a violation within 24 months, the board shall revoke the retailer's license to sell restricted products.


FDA has a variety of enforcement tools to address retailers who violate Federal statutes or regulations, including civil money penalties, warning letters, seizures, injunctions, no-sale orders and/or criminal prosecution. Retailers who violate the regulations may also be in violation of state law and subject to state penalties or other related orders.

Affirmative Defense

Proof that a retailer demanded, was shown, and reasonably relied upon evidence of  an acceptable form of identification shall be defense to an action brought against the retailer.


Federal law provides that the FDA shall adopt regulations that may provide any retailer that implements the “approved training program,” a reduced civil money penalty if that retailer is found in violation. The FDA does not require training, but it recommends retailers train and educate their employees.

Until the FDA issues guidance or regulations on what constitutes an FDA “approved training program,” the FDA indicates “the agency intends to use a lower maximum civil money penalties schedule for all retailers who violate the regulations restricting the sale and distribution of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, whether or not they have implemented a training program. However, FDA may consider further reducing the civil money penalty for retailers who have implemented a training program.”

Minor Possession

Every person under age 21 who purchases, receives, or possesses Restricted  Products, or any other instrument or paraphernalia that is designed for the  smoking or ingestion of Restricted Products, is subject to a fine of $75 or 30 hours of community service.

California state law does not specify an age requirement for clearks to sell tobacco products; however, many local jurisdictions have laws about the minimum legal age of a clerk to sell tobacco products.  Please see the list of California jurisdictions known to have a minimum age for clerks to sell tobacco products or contact your local health department tobacco control program to find out if there is a specific age requirement in your jurisdiction.


Not applicable under Federal law

Sign Requirement


The STAKE Act requires that every person, firm, or corporation that sells,  distributes, or deals with tobacco products, conspicuously post at each point of  purchase, a notice stating that selling tobacco products to anyone under 21 years  of age is illegal and subject to penalties. The notice must be posted where it is  likely to be read by a consumer during the sale.  The notice shall state that the law  requires that all persons selling tobacco products check the identification of any  purchaser of tobacco products who reasonably appears to be under 21 years of age.  The notice also must include a toll-free number for persons to report violations to  the California Department of Health Services.

Per Title 17 California Code of Regulations Section 6902, the sign must be square  in shape and no smaller than 5.5 inches high by 5.5 inches wide (30.25 square  inches) or be rectangular in shape and no smaller than 3.66 inches high by 8.5  inches wide (31.11 square inches). A sign may be larger; however, the sign must be  proportionate to one set of the dimensions set forth above.

The sign must be printed in ink that is of high contrast from the color of the  background material such as black ink on white paper or dark blue ink on yellow  paper.  The words in bold and quotes below must be on the sign in bold or medium  Helvetica or Futura type face:

"The Sale of Tobacco Products to Persons Under 21 Years of Age is Prohibited by Law and Subject to Penalties. Valid Identification May Be Required. " (This wording must be located at least 1/3 inch from the top and sides  and must be no smaller than 20 point).

"To Report an Unlawful Tobacco Sale Call 1-800-5ASK-4-ID." (This wording  must be located at least 1/3 inch from the sides and be no smaller than 30 point and  in all cases be at least 6 points larger than all other text).

"Business and Professions Code Section 22952." (This wording must be located  at least 1/4 inch from the sides and bottom and be no smaller than 12 point).

Under the STAKE Act, any person failing to post conspicuously and keep posted  the proper signage shall be subject to a civil penalty in the amount of $200 for  the first violation, and $500 for each additional violation.  In addition, any person  convicted of violating the California criminal code mandating state signage may  be punished by a fine of $50 for the first offense, $100 for a second offense, $250  for a third offense, and $500 for any subsequent offense, or by imprisonment in a  county jail for up to 30 days.

To obtain California STAKE Act signs free of charge for every retail point-of-sale:

HARD COPY:  The CA Dept. of Public Health indicates that adhesive-backed signs are being mailed to retailers during the month of July 2020.  Or to order additional age-of-sale warning signs, see the CA Dept. of Public Health's website page and click on Signage Order Form.

ONLINE:  To download and print a STAKE Act compliant sign, see the CA Dept. of Public Health's website page and click on Age of Sale Warning Sign 


Effective 8/10/18:  For retailers who sell cigars individually without packaging, there is an FDA sign requirement.   Download We Card's Sign

Alert:  A U.S. District court overturned this regulation in February 2020. However, there are expectations this regulation will be revisited and may be reinstated after ongoing adjustments or legal matters before the courts. Therefore, retailers need to be prepared for this requirement IF it is required once the legal matters are resolved by the court.

Cigars Sold Individually without Packaging - Retailers who sell cigars individually, and not in a product package must post a sign at each point-of-sale that displays all six of the required warning statements per 21 CFR § 1143.5(a)(3).  Each sign must be at least 8.5x11 inches in size; clear, legible, and conspicuous; printed in black Helvetica bold or Arial bold type or other similar sans serif fonts against a solid white background, in at least 17-point font size with appropriate spacing between the warning statements; posted on or within 3 inches of each cash register where payment may be made; and unobstructed in its entirety and read easily by each consumer making a purchase. The required warning statements on the sign must be: printed in a manner that contrasts, by typography, layout, or color, with all other printed material; and capitalized and punctuated as indicated above.  

We Card - FDA Required Sign


Compliance Checks

As a condition of receiving federal substance abuse block grant funds, federal law  requires the State of California to conduct random, unannounced inspections of  tobacco outlets to determine compliance rates. The State Department of Public  Health maintains primary enforcement responsibility, together with other state  agencies including, but not limited to, the office of the Attorney General, or local  law enforcement agencies (e.g., city attorney, district attorney, or county counsel).  


FDA conducts compliance checks of retail stores to determine whether retailers are complying with the new federal law, using:

  • Attempted purchases of tobacco using underage customers.
  • Inspections of stores for other compliance requirements.
  • Inspections of stores in response to public complaints to the FDA’s request for the general public to report suspected store violations (1-877-CTP-1373 or

The FDA indicates that it will conduct follow-up compliance checks on stores found in violation.

Minor License Visual Characteristics

Minor licenses are vertical with a ghost image at the lower left. Under 21  licenses have white "AGE 21 IN (0000)" in a red bar; under 18 licenses have  white "PROVISIONAL UNTIL AGE 18 IN (0000)" in a blue bar. For additional  information and/or an image, visit: State of California Department of Motor Vehicles.


Not applicable under Federal law




See additional information and requirements on advertising, labeling and promotion requirements -- available here.

Last updated 04/2022