Selling tobacco products is a complicated process and is subject to heavy regulation. These restrictions reflect public policy initiatives to reduce smoking. Therefore, if you wish to sell tobacco products, you will need to ensure that you comply with all the relevant laws. These laws cover all elements of the tobacco selling process, from displaying the product to selling them. This article details how your business can legally sell tobacco products.

Who Regulates Tobacco Products?

The Australian government regulates tobacco products. The Federal government sets the level of excise tax. However, state and territory governments regulate:

  • when a business can sell tobacco;
  • how businesses must sell tobacco; and
  • the circumstances where a business must refuse to sell tobacco.

States and territories also regulate where an individual can smoke in public.

Licences

If you intend to sell tobacco products, you need to either:

  • have a licence; or
  • formally notify your state government of this intention.

What you are required to do depends on which state or territory you are located in.

For example, in New South Wales, tobacco retailers must first notify the Director-General of the Department of Health.

However, in Western Australia, all tobacco retailers need a licence.

Selling Tobacco

Your business will typically only able to sell tobacco from one point of sale. You cannot sell single cigarettes. Furthermore, you cannot sell tobacco from a temporary or mobile structure, even if it forms part of your permanent premises. These prohibited structures include:

  • display stands;
  • booths;
  • tents;
  • marquees;
  • vans; and
  • trucks.

You also cannot sell tobacco at a major sporting event or arts-related events such as a music festival. Furthermore, you will usually have to display an A3 black and white sign warning of the dangers of smoking. It will need to be placed next to the place where the tobacco products are being sold or near your store’s entrance.

Legal Age

Both employees and employers can face stiff penalties for selling tobacco to a person under the age of 18. As a proprietor, you should have strict policies about asking for identification (ID). In addition, you should display a sign that clearly states that minors will not be served tobacco and indicates what types of ID you will accept.

Furthermore, you should regularly undertake staff training that focuses on:

  • not selling tobacco to minors;
  • requesting ID; and
  • the legal implications of selling to anyone aged below 18.

You should also ask employees to sign their attendance at the training.

In Victoria, if you have implemented a comprehensive training regime, you may avoid a fine if their employee sells tobacco to a minor.

Banned Products

As a tobacco retailer, it is necessary to stay aware of any products that have been banned from sale. The Minister for Health bans the sale of certain products because their taste or appearance may entice young people to smoke. The government can also withdraw other non-tobacco products that resemble tobacco from the market. State and territory agencies have up to date lists that outline which products have been banned.

Displaying Tobacco Products

In Australia, you are not allowed to display tobacco products. If you are selling them, the products must be in an unobtrusive cupboard or drawer and cannot be visible. However, you can have an A4 sign that indicates you sell tobacco. Only duty-free shops and certified specialist tobacconists are exempt from this requirement.

When a customer requests a tobacco product, be careful to open the drawer or cupboard only for as long as necessary to remove it. An undecided customer cannot peruse these products. Instead, you must ask them general questions.

You must also repair any damaged cupboards or drawers that subsequently display the product as soon as possible. In the interim, you are legally obliged to make all reasonably practical efforts to ensure that tobacco products are not visible to the public. If the drawer or cupboard has labels or prices to guide staff, customers should not be able to read them. It is best practice to restock the products when the store is closed. If a delivery arrives during opening hours, the products must be removed from sight immediately.

As a tobacco retailer, you are allowed to have a board that displays the prices of your products. However, this is subject to specifications that mandate:

  • how large the writing can be;
  • that the board cannot be lit up;
  • that there must be an appropriate graphic warning on the board.

You cannot advertise cigarettes. Similarly, you cannot discount them or offer them in exchange for a voucher or as part of a customer loyalty or rewards scheme.

Vending Machines

You are only allowed to place a vending machine selling tobacco products in certain areas of your business. However, precisely where depends on what type of business you run.

For example, in Victoria, bottle shops can only have a machine next to the counter. In a bar, a machine must be visible and within a certain distance of the counter.

Key Takeaways

If you are a business owner selling tobacco products, your business must comply with its legal requirements. When selling tobacco, you must:

  • have the appropriate licence or make a formal notification;
  • refuse sale to minors;
  • not sell banned products; and
  • follow the legal requirements for displaying tobacco products.

If you have any questions about when or how you can sell tobacco products, contact LegalVision’s competition lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Carole Hemingway
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