Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Effective July 28, 2009, RCW 70.155.140 makes it illegal for most tobacco products ordered or purchased by telephone, mail order, or through the Internet, to be shipped directly to consumers in Washington.

More information about the law, which was written by the Attorney General's Office and passed during the 2009 Legislative session, can be found here:

SB 5340 / HB 1249: Tobacco Internet Sales

As the committee co-Chair for the National Association of Attorneys General, former Attorney General Rob McKenna continued Washington’s leadership role in seeking to uphold the public health goals of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.

The proliferation of online sales potentially posed several problems for Washington and its residents:

  • Selling tobacco to minors is illegal in Washington, as in every state. Internet and mail-order sellers offered minors relatively easy access to tobacco. Our ability to verify the age of the recipients of tobacco products sold remotely appeared to be unenforceable.
  • Internet sellers advertised that their customers can avoid state excise taxes. Purchases by Washington consumers of cigarettes over the Internet resulted in a loss of revenue to the state.
  • Because they evaded state taxes, Internet sellers placed traditional licensed distributors and retailers at a competitive disadvantage.
  • The availability of “cheap smokes” from online sellers undercut the public health purpose of Washington’s tobacco excise tax. Higher costs of tobacco products have been shown to be effective in deterring non-smokers — particularly youth — from starting to smoke, and serve as an incentive for smokers to quit.
  • Internet sellers offeed for sale tobacco products manufactured by some companies that have not complied with Washington’s tobacco product manufacturer certification process, and, therefore, were not legal for sale in Washington. These sales violated RCW 70.157 and 70.158 (Washington’s “escrow” statute and “complementary” legislation).

The Attorney General’s Office helped pass the legislation prohibiting the shipment of certain tobacco products purchased through the Internet or by mail order to anyone other than licensed wholesalers or retailers, correcting a loophole in Washington’s laws regarding age verification, taxation, public health goals and certification.