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Smoke-free Palo Alto Ordinance Requirements

Smoke-free Palo Alto Ordinance Requirements

Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death and disease in California, killing nearly 40,000 Californians every year. The 2012 Surgeon General's Report found that about 90 percent of all smokers first tried cigarettes as teens, and that about three of every four teen smokers continue into adulthood. Young adults, ages 18 to 24, have the highest smoking prevalence among any age group according to the California Department of Public Health. In addition, a survey of Palo Alto multi-unit residents in 2015 indicated that 80% of multi-unit residents are bothered by smoking, and 90% favored smoking restrictions in multi-unit housing. 

Due to public health concerns, Palo Alto City Council has adopted two ordinances that set requirements for tobacco use and sale. Municipal Code 4.64 - Permits for Retailers of Tobacco Products regulates where tobacco products can be sold, and Municipal Code 9.14 - Smoking and Tobacco Regulations regulates where tobacco products may be usedA summary of both of these ordinances is located here.

Restrictions on where tobacco products may be sold

On October 2, 2017 City Council adopted the Tobacco Retail Permit Ordinance (TRP). The Ordinance requires tobacco retailers to maintain an active Tobacco Retail Permit and related requirements. The ordinance is administered and monitored by Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health and Santa Clara County Public Health Department. The ordinance currently:

  • Prohibits pharmacies from selling tobacco products. All other tobacco retailers must obtain and display a Tobacco Retail Permit;
  • Requires retailers to maintain a distance of 500 feet from other tobacco retailers and a minimum of 1,000 feet from schools;
  • Prohibits flavored tobacco products from being sold except at “adult-only” stores (stores that serve people ages 21 and over and which generate 60% or more of sale from tobacco products or e-cigarette products); 
  • Requires annual County permit checks, and annual youth-decoy “undercover” checks by the Palo Alto Police Department.

New: 2020 Proposed Changes to the Tobacco Retail Permit Ordinance (TRP)

On May 18, 2020 Palo Alto City Council discussed possible additional restrictions at Palo Alto tobacco retailers to address youth vaping concerns. Council reviewed an ordinance proposed by staff which would prohibit the sale and distribution of all flavored tobacco products and electronic cigarette products (devices and any flavored or unflavored e-liquids), but exempt stores that sell primarily tobacco products (often referred to as “adult only” stores because customers must be age 21 or over to purchase products at these retailers). Ultimately, Council directed staff to return with a ordinance that mirrors that Santa Clara County Department of Health Tobacco Retail Permit Ordinance which would prohibit the sale of all vaping and tobacco products at all Palo Alto retailers without an exemption for adult-only stores.

At the June 8 Council meeting, Council scheduled further discussion of this topic for the Tuesday, June 16 meeting. Retailers and other members of the public may participate virtually in the Council meeting to provide public comment, or email Council meeting agendas and participation instructions are located here. For more information, call (650) 329-2117. 

Additional Resources for Retailers:

Free "No Smoking" metal signs and window decals are available to business owners. Select which signage option you want (Option A or B) and quantity. State you are requesting the business sign and provide your name, delivery address and phone number. Email your request to or call (650) 329-2122. 

Smoking Ordinance Business Sign Options
 Sign Option #Message  TypeDimensions 

"No Smoking. No E-cigarettes.

This is a smokefree property. Palo Alto Municipal Code 9.14."

Metal9" x 12"
(Same Message as Option A)
Window Decal4" x 6"

Restrictions on where tobacco products may be used

Smoking is prohibited in public spaces including indoor and outdoor dining areas, entryways, public events, recreation areas, service areas, commercial areas; outdoor service areas such as bus stops, ATMs, and ticket lines, places of employment, construction worksites, all City of Palo Alto facilities, parks, golf course and open space, and 25 feet from any doorway, window, opening, crack, or vent into an enclosed area. Exceptions to the current ban may be allowed if a shopping center or commercial areas establishes a designated smoking area that is at least 25 feet away from any openings and includes receptacles to control litter.

Smoking is also restricted at all multi-unit residences and common areas to reduce public exposure to secondhand smoke. The ordinance prohibits the use of cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, hookahs, pipes, electronic smoking devices, and any plant product intended for human inhalation including medical or recreational marijuana. Landlords and sellers of condominium units are required to give written notice to tenants and buyers about the smoking ban and to include smoking prohibitions as part of the terms of their lease and rental agreements.

Resources for multi-family property managers, owners and residents:

Smoking Ordinance Multi-unit Property Sign Options
 Sign Option #Message  TypeDimensions 

“All units and common areas of this
complex are Smoke Free.

Thank you for not smoking or using e-cigarettes.

Palo Alto Municipal Code 9.14

For more information, contact your building or property manager, or visit”
Metal8" x 12"
(Same Message as Option #1)
Window Decal4" x 6"
“No Smoking, No E-Cigarettes.
For help quitting call 1-800-NO-BUTTS “*
Metal11.5" x 8"
4(Same Message as Option #3)*
Window Decal4" x 6"
*Note: this phone number is for the California Smokers’ Helpline which provides free telephone counseling, self-help materials, and online help in six languages to help smokers quit.

Additional Resources

Last Updated: June 10, 2020