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How To Get a NYC Tobacco License: Requirements & Cost

About 11 percent of New York City residents are smokers. With a population of over eight million people, that 11 percent is a massive market. If you’re looking to target this demographic by opening a smoke shop, you might just be in for a profitable venture. 

Imagine you’ve found the perfect location for your store. You’ve found a deal on the lease, painted the walls, and gotten your retail displays set up just right. You’ve stocked your shelves with the best tobacco and vapor products on the market… but on opening day, instead of customers, you get a visit from a city inspector slapping you with fines and penalties.

If you try to open your store without a NYC tobacco license, this is how that story ends. But with the right steps and precautions, you can avoid the fines and open a legal, profitable business.

This post walks you through the steps you need to take to get a NYC tobacco license. We’ll cover costs, application steps, and more. 

Who Needs a NYC Tobacco License?

Before we dive into the requirements and costs of getting a tobacco license in New York City, let’s first answer a critical question — do you need a tobacco license?

Anyone intending to sell tobacco products at retail establishments in New York City must have a tobacco retail dealer license. This requirement includes convenience stores, grocery stores, tobacco shops, pharmacies, gas stations, and other businesses that provide tobacco to shoppers. Even vendors setting up temporary shops at fairs, markets, or special events need a license if they will sell tobacco in NYC. 

The requirement also extends to online sellers that have a physical location for pickup or delivery within city limits. Simply put, you need a tobacco license if your business sells tobacco to customers and interacts with them within New York City.

Related Read: How To Start a Smoke Shop: Your 10-Step Guide to Success

Operating without the necessary license can result in severe fines and penalties, especially for repeat offenders. The city may force non-compliant businesses to close down or suspend tobacco sales for a period. These outcomes can hurt your store, so obtaining the right tobacco license upfront is essential to your business’ success. 

With this in mind, let’s examine how you can apply for a tobacco license in New York City. 

How To Apply for a Tobacco License in NYC 

Obtaining a tobacco retail dealer license in New York City involves several key steps. Let’s walk through them all, step by step.

  1. Determine What Type of License You Need
    The first part of applying for a NYC tobacco license is determining your required permit. If selling cigarettes directly to consumers, you need a retail cigarette license. Other tobacco products like cigars, pipe, or chewing tobacco require the general retail tobacco products license. Wholesalers supplying cigarettes or other tobacco items to other retailers for resale must obtain wholesale licenses. Review your product mix to understand the type of licensing you need for your store.

    Related Read: The Basics of Selling Tobacco: Laws, Regulations, and Requirements

  2. Provide Business Paperwork
    NYC tobacco license applicants must formalize their business structure and paperwork before applying. Sole proprietors can provide basic documentation of ownership. Other entities like LLCs and corporations should obtain a Certificate of Authority to conduct business in New York. Filing the proper business paperwork shows the licensing board you can legally sell products as an official company.

  3. Complete Your Application
    Next, you must complete the tobacco license application. This application requires you to submit details on your ownership, location, inventory, and operations. You must also submit supporting documents like photo IDs, proof of your retail location through a deed or lease, and images of the interior and exterior of your storefront. Thorough applications help speed up approvals.

  4. Pay Application Fee
    Your application requires a fee to file. We’ll discuss the specific costs of various licenses in NYC later in the post, but be aware that you must pay an initial licensing fee that varies based on your license type.

  5. Pass Premises Inspection
    Finally, your location must pass an in-person inspection verifying your premises complies with all city tobacco sales regulations. Once fully approved, you will receive your license certificate authorizing tobacco sales.

How Much Is a Tobacco License in NYC? 

You know you need a tobacco license, but you need to prepare for the appropriate costs to get started. Let’s break down the costs of various tobacco licenses in New York City. 

The licenses allowing direct retail sale of tobacco to customers have the lowest price points. A retail cigarette dealer license permitting cigarette sales costs $300 for each retail location and $100 for each vending machine. The general retail tobacco products dealer license covering items like cigars, pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco comes in at $200. These affordable options help small shops or convenience stores manage overhead.

Related Read: How To Get a Tobacco License [4 Steps]

Wholesale dealer licenses enabling the resale of tobacco products to other retailers prove more expensive. Wholesale cigarette dealer permits cost $1,500. This pricier license accommodates the larger-scale distribution of wholesalers across their networks. 

Beyond the tobacco licenses themselves, other peripheral costs sometimes apply. Filing formal business paperwork like Certificates of Authority has fees depending on your structure. Any needed construction, vendor permits, or other changes at your location may also incur costs. Costs may also change over time, so please review the New York City government resources for updated pricing and requirements. 

Unique NYC Tobacco Laws and Restrictions 

New York City enforces several tobacco regulations beyond basic state and federal rules. These stricter retail requirements aim to curb youth access and exposure to tobacco. Understanding key NYC restrictions is critical for new tobacco retailers looking to stay on the right side of the law. 

One major difference is the minimum age to purchase tobacco products. In New York City, customers must be at least 21 years of age to purchase tobacco products. Strong age verification processes and tools are critical to ensure underage shoppers don’t get tobacco from your store. Consider implementing a robust point of sale (POS) solution with built-in age verification features. 

Related Read: POS for Tobacco Store: What To Look For and 4 Best Options

The city also bans all flavored vaping products, excluding tobacco, menthol, mint, and wintergreen flavors. 

In addition, New York City implements tobacco price floors that dictate the minimum prices shops can charge for cigarettes, cigarillos, roll-your-own tobacco, chewing tobacco, and other products. Restrictions prohibiting coupon redemption, multi-pack discounts, and similar price reduction tactics also try curtailing affordability.

Several locality-specific rules also govern licensing and locations. New York City caps the number of tobacco retailer licenses available in its community districts. Restrictions keep shops from operating too close to schools, aiming to limit youth exposure and access. Strict signage requirements in retail establishments remind customers of the raised minimum age.

Operating Your Store With a NYC Tobacco License 

Navigating New York City’s licensing requirements is critical for legally operating a tobacco or smoke shop, and this post should help get you started on the right foot. However, the right licenses are just the beginning. Once your licenses are secured, you need the right retail technology to manage compliance while efficiently running your business. 

The most critical tool in your retail arsenal is your point of sale system. You need a point of sale solution with the features and functionality tobacco shops need to manage their stores. 

Cigars POS is a point of sale system built for tobacco, smoke, and vape shops. Our tool has features like carton-pack inventory, age verification, and flexible payment processing, giving you all the functionality you need from a point of sale system. 

Schedule a demo of Cigars POS today to see what our tool can do for your business. 

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