How the Act Affects You

Retailers: Frequently Asked Questions

Issued: February 2008
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Smoke-Free Ontario Act
Tobacco Display Ban
February 2008

Frequently Asked Questions for Tobacco Vendors

For Further Information
Contact Your Local Public Health Unit
Ministry of Health Promotion
Smoke-Free Ontario Legislation

The Smoke-Free Ontario Act and Regulation are available online at:

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Q#1: How will customers know that tobacco products are sold at my store or what brands and types of tobacco are available?

A: Retailers will continue to be permitted up to three signs that indicate the availability of tobacco in their stores. These signs must comply with section 7 of the Regulation (O.Reg. 48/06) and must use black text against a white background.

To help in product selection, retailers may offer customers a binder or other reference tool containing an inventory of tobacco products available for purchase. This tool must comply with all other requirements of the Smoke-Free Ontario Act relating to the promotion of tobacco products. The proper use of this tool is for reference and not for distribution or display.

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Q#2: Is it okay for me to leave the binder on the counter for customers?

A: The binder may not be left open on the counter. It must be stored away from view, e.g. beneath the counter, and may be used by a clerk and a customer of legal age to buy tobacco, to identify products for purchase. The binder should only be taken out during a sale and then returned immediately to its storage location.

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Q#3: What if I am a Registered Tobacconist?

A: Registered Tobacconists must comply with all provisions of the display ban as it applies to cigarettes and other non-specialty products.

However, tobacconists registered with the Ministry of Health Promotion are exempt from the display ban for the sale of specialty tobacco products. The Ministry of Health Promotion has provided Public Health Units with a current list of Registered Tobacconists in their area.

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Q#4: How does the display ban apply to specialty tobacco products?

A: For retailers and non-Registered Tobacconists, cigars, cigarillos, pipe tobacco and other specialty tobacco products, including chewing tobacco, snus, snuff, etc., are included in the display ban and the same rules apply as for cigarettes.

Only Registered Tobacconists are exempt from the tobacco display ban for specialty tobacco products.

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Q#5: How does the display ban affect the sale of pipes, lighters and other accessories?

A: Tobacco product accessories may continue to be displayed after May 31, 2008. Subsections 3.1(1) and (2) of the Smoke-Free Ontario Act prohibit the display of tobacco products in certain places, but do not mention the display of tobacco product accessories. Products that may be displayed include:

  • Pipes
  • Cigarette tubes
  • Cigar cutters
  • Punches
  • Portable humidification devices
  • Humidors

Note: Subsection 3.1(3) of the Act prohibits the promotion of the sale of tobacco products. Therefore, although tobacco product accessories may be displayed and offered for sale, the display must not identify a particular tobacco brand.

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Q#6: What about humidors?

A: Where a walk-in humidor is located in premises operated by a Registered Tobacconist (registered by the Ministry of Health Promotion), a consumer 19 years and older may view and select a specialty tobacco product. If cigarettes are stored in the humidor, these products may not be displayed to the consumer prior to purchase.

Where a walk-in or any type of humidor is located in premises operated by a non-Registered Tobacconist, tobacco is not to be visible outside the humidor. Frosted glass or other finishes that prevent viewing are acceptable options to ensure that tobacco products are not visible. Only the clerk is permitted to enter a walk-in humidor to retrieve the product. If a non-Registered Tobacconist has portable or smaller humidors, these must also be in compliance with the display ban and must be positioned away from view of the consumer.

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Q#7: Can I still have a snus refrigerator?

A: No tobacco products, including snus, may be displayed by means of a counter-top display. Any device, including a refrigerator, may not promote the use of tobacco products through any logo or promotional enhancement as outlined in section 3.1(3) of the Act. Also, the snus may not be displayed in a manner that permits the consumer to view it prior to purchase.

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Q#8: How does the display ban apply to sales kiosks?

A: Kiosks may have fewer storage options, which may make it difficult to sell tobacco without displaying tobacco products prior to purchase. Despite these difficulties, operators of kiosks are required to comply with all aspects of the display ban as set out in the Smoke-Free Ontario Act.

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Q#9: Does the ban change the Act or regulation?

A: The tobacco display ban does not change or affect other sections of the Act or the regulation. For example, the restriction on the maximum allowable number of signs in the establishment remains in effect. All places that sell or offer to sell tobacco products must post the government health warning and age requirement signs as described in sections 10 and 11 of the Regulation (O.Reg 48/06).

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Q#10: How much is the fine for displaying tobacco after the ban takes effect?

A: A person who contravenes section 3.1 of the Act is subject to a ticket in the amount of $250. Serious offences where a summons is issued may involve higher fine amounts.

A corporation could be subject to a maximum fine of $10,000 for a first offence and $150,000 for three or more offences. An individual could be subject to a maximum fine of $4,000 for a first offence and $100,000 for three or more offences.

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Q#11: Can I still use the small price tags?

A: The price tags that were previously permitted, as indicated in the policy bulletin issued May 30, 2006 re: The Provision of Tobacco to Persons Under 19, are to be removed from view as of May 31, 2008.

Small tags are permitted on the outside of storage devices in order to help a retailer locate the particular tobacco product(s) contained in each storage device. These tags must:

  • Use black type on a white background
  • Use letters up to 14 point type size
  • Not use logos or colour
  • Not be larger than 2" x 1" (5 cm x 2.5 cm)

These identifier tags are to be used only to locate the specific product, not as enhancements or to promote tobacco products. Price information is not permitted on these identification tags.

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Q#12: Can retailers use shower curtains to cover cigarette displays?

A: Any option that could allow for the prolonged display of tobacco products, whether deliberate or accidental, is not acceptable.

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Q#13: Will I be charged for re-stocking the shelves or taking inventory during business hours?

A: Enforcement staff will take into consideration special circumstances where, from time to time, tobacco products must be exposed due to either restocking or receipt of new products. While there is an expectation that reasonable precautions have been taken to ensure that tobacco products are not visible for an extended period of time, tobacco that is visible during the course of regular business transactions, including inventory work, restocking or other normal activities will not be considered to be in violation of the Act.

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Q#14: Where should I store cartons and over-stock?

A: Different stores may require various product-storage configurations for over-stock. For example, stores with a large inventory of tobacco may place their over-stock in cabinets or in shelving units that would not normally be recommended as a storage or dispensing device. However, given that these would be used primarily for storage only and not for accessing products for consumers, officers will review these devices with a reasonable and practical approach in determining whether they are compliant with the Act.

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Q#15: Do the drawers need to be a specific sizes?

A: There is no minimum or maximum dimension for the slim drawers as outlined in the operational policy. The Display Ban Enforcement Policy refers to spines only being exposed, but does not specify which spine.

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Q#16: Who can use a binder and what information can it contain?

A: Binders can be used to list the inventory of cigarettes, cigars and other specialty tobacco items available in a retail outlet. Pictures of product packages, descriptions, nicotine content, health warnings, prices, and the product packages themselves are permitted in binders. Comparative price information is allowed in a binder.

Advertising materials such as tobacco advertisements from a magazine or promotional poster may be considered promotional and should not be included in a binder.

A binder may be stored beneath the counter and used by a clerk with a customer of legal age to complete a tobacco purchase transaction. (i.e. a binder may be used to identify which product the customer wishes to purchase.) The binder should only be taken out during a sale and then returned immediately thereafter to its storage spot. The binder may not be left open on the counter.

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Q#17: Do my cabinets need to be a specific colour?

A: The colours of the doors and drawers of tobacco storage cabinets cannot be associated with a tobacco brand or enhance a particular tobacco brand as this represents promotion and is prohibited under section 3.1 (3) of the Act.

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Q#18: What sort of signs can I have telling customers that I still sell cigarettes?

A: Three signs are allowed as specified in Regulation section 7. Signs referring to the sale of tobacco products are permitted only to inform customers that a retailer sells tobacco products and to communicate the product price. Further:

  • The size of the sign cannot exceed 968 square centimetres.
  • Signs must use black text against a white background.
  • The text of a sign must not be visible from outside the retail establishment.
  • A retailer may post a maximum of three signs referring to tobacco products and/or tobacco product accessories.
  • Signs must not identify a brand of tobacco or tobacco-related product.

The three permitted store signs may have descriptors that do not specify a particular brand name, such as “Budget brands” or “Premium Brands”. The use of generic descriptors like “Cigars” or “Cuban Cigars” is permitted, although the use of any specific tobacco brand name is not permitted.

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Q#19: What can I use on the outside of cabinets to locate the products in?

A: Small tags, intended to help a vendor locate particular tobacco product(s) contained in storage devices, are permitted on storage device exteriors. These tags must:

  • Use black type on a white background
  • Use letters up to 14 point type size
  • Not use logos or colour, and
  • Not be larger than 2" X 1" (5 cm X 2.5 cm).

The use of these identifier tags is intended to be practical and used by customer service representatives needing to locate specific products, not as product enhancements or as a means to promote tobacco products. These identifier tags may use words like “cigars”, “Cuban cigars” or “Dominican cigars.”

In addition:

  • Use of UPC labels (barcodes) on labelling tags is not prohibited under the Act.
  • Price information is not permitted on these identification tags, but may be placed under the flap, or inside a drawer, and out of view from the customer.
  • Product identifier tags cannot use colour or brand association.
  • Humidors may use a tag with the word “humidor”.

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Q#20: What are the differences with handling tobacco products for Registered Tobacconists and Non-Registered Tobacconists?

A: It is generally accepted that more scrutiny is involved in the purchase decision for an item such as a cigar than for cigarettes. For registered tobacconists who are exempt from the prohibition under section 3.1 of the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, allowing a customer to handle a cigar or other such specialty product is not prohibited. However, with respect to non-registered tobacco vendors who may also sell specialty products including cigars, there is no exemption from handling prior to purchase.

All the prohibitions under section 3.1, including subsection 1(b) i.e. the prohibition on displaying or permitting the display of tobacco products in a manner that “permits the purchaser to handle tobacco products before purchasing” applies fully to non-registered tobacconists and other tobacco vendors. The purpose of these particular sections are to prevent youth from accessing tobacco, and from self-service. Therefore, where a store clerk has first determined through a proper ID check that the purchaser is of valid age and a purchaser has requested to see or feel a particular cigar to determine its quality, handling becomes part of the sale transaction. We recommend store owners to be respectful of the prohibition on display and complete the transaction before attending to the next customer.

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Q#21: How do I make sure my humidor is compliant? (Non-Registered Tobacconists)

A: For the purposes of compliance with the tobacco display ban provision, a humidor located at a non-registered tobacconist is considered an approved tobacco storage device provided that the humidor:

  • is equipped with a functioning humidification device,
  • contains only cigars that require humidity control,
  • has opaque surfaces that prevent the view of the cigars from outside the humidor, and
  • is located to open away from customer view unless the opening is of such size that the view of the cigars is predominately and reasonably impeded by the clerk as the product is retrieved.

Further with respect to humidors:

  • Individuals completing inventory checks or restocking products may need to open the humidors as part of normal business operations. Enforcement staff will take this into consideration.
  • A humidor door that faces the customer must be opaque so as to prevent the display of tobacco. The glass may be frosted or covered sufficiently to prevent tobacco products from being seen from outside the humidor.
  • Proprietors using humidors that do not have a mechanism to close automatically must ensure that the humidor is closed at all times, and only opened to access a product and closed again immediately afterward.