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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Education sources for retailers

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Stay up-to-date with current federal, state and local laws and new information regarding the sale of tobacco products.

Check customer ID

FDA regulations
Break The Chain
On June 22, 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a rule that restricts the sale, distribution, and marketing of cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, and smokeless tobacco products to protect children and adolescents. The rule is required by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act and is intended to protect kids by making tobacco products less accessible and attractive to them.
  • Check photo ID of everyone appearing under age 27 who attempts to purchase cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, or smokeless tobacco.
  • Only sell cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, and smokeless tobacco to anyone age 18 or older. **
  • Only sell cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, and smokeless tobacco in a direct, face-to-face exchange. ***
  • Do NOT break open cigarette or smokeless tobacco packages to sell products in smaller amounts.
  • Do NOT sell cigarette packages containing fewer than 20 cigarettes.
  • Do NOT sell single cigarettes, also called "loosies".
  • Do NOT give away free samples of cigarettes.
  • Do NOT give away free samples of smokeless tobacco except from a "qualified adult-only facility."
  • Do NOT sell flavored cigarettes or flavored cigarette tobacco (other than menthol).

* This is only a summary of the laws. For the full list of federal laws, visit: www.fda.gov/BreakTheChain.

** Retailers must also follow state tobacco laws, even if they are more restrictive. For example, in some states the minimum age is 19.

*** The sale of cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, and smokeless tobacco through vending machines and self-service displays are allowed in adult-only facilities where no person younger than 18 is permitted to enter. Please note that tobacco product vending machines are banned in some states.

Required signage

This yellow sign is required by the State of Washington to be posted so that it is clearly visible to anyone buying tobacco products. You can also download a version to print out here.

Additional signage

Note: The best placement for these signs is on or near the register facing your clerks, NOT facing the customer. Click on the images or the text link below to download and print:


Acceptable forms of identification for tobacco sales
Watch a streaming video for Washington State retailers who sell tobacco products.
All forms of acceptable Identification must have the person's picture, name, address, date of birth, physical description, and signature. Acceptable forms of ID include:
  • Drivers license, drivers permit or identification card issued by any state in the US or Canadian Province
  • US Military ID card
  • Passport
  • Some Tribal IDs are now acceptable
  • A merchant marine ID card (issued by US Coast Guard)

If you think the ID is not valid, you have the right and responsibility to refuse selling the tobacco product. Don't forget to check the expiration date. If you are interested in obtaining information about other states' IDs, please call us at 206-263-8271. You can also visit the Department of Licensing’s website about ID card designs.

  • Temporary paper IDs or driver licenses are only acceptable if accompanied with the previous (valid or expired) ID/license.
  • A punched WA State driver license is still considered an acceptable form of ID as long as it is not expired. This happens when a person can no longer drive, but can still use the license for ID purposes.
Checking ID

Don't be afraid to ask everyone for identification. Your customers will understand and appreciate your efforts to keep tobacco out of the hands of minors. Checking ID is a critical step refusing to sell tobacco to minors. In fact, clerks that ask for ID are almost six times more likely to refuse to sell tobacco to a minor. Don't take any chances - always ask for ID to make sure the customer is 18 or older.

Checking identification is easier than you might think. The key is to become familiar with the different types of ID's that you will be checking.

Here’s a quick and easy-to-read form that details what to look for when checking someone's ID. You can review it here, or print it out and keep it by your register: Checking ID Guide.