Selling cigars online 101: Authorize.Net, NMI, age verification and more –
First, let’s go over a few payment processing basics that affect cigar sites.
Process credit cards with a high-risk payment gateway
Does Authorize.Net allow tobacco?
Yes. The payment gateway piece does allow items like loose tobacco and cigars. This allows you to connect Authorize.Net to a tobacco friendly merchant account and connect the gateway to your website. Correctly setting up a “tobacco friendly merchant account” is the key though.
We wrote a summary of some common “Does Authorize.Net allow?” questions on our Authorize.Net prohibited items page
Does NMI allow cigar sales?
Yes. But again NMI needs to be connected to a cigar-friendly processor.
A cigar-friendly payment gateway like Authorize.Net or NMI will only work for cigar sales if the merchant account that it connects to is also set up for internet cigar sales on the back end. If this is confusing, contact us to learn how to move forward.
Don’t get shut down or blacklisted by using the wrong provider. Let us recommend the correct solutions and make sure you get set up correctly the first time.
What if my shopping cart does not allow Authorize.Net or NMI? How can I accept credit cards for cigars?
Usually, by using a 3rd party cart replacement. We have written extensively about site builders like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace. You can read about selling high-risk products like cigars on Squarespace here, learn about selling items like cigars using Wix here or read about Weebly and high-risk payment gateways, here.
It can be a lot of work to open an online cigar store. Even a premium cigar site or luxury cigar of the month club has challenges, but finding a stable tobacco-friendly payment gateway and compatible merchant account should not be your biggest hurdle. We can help.
Selling cigars online: research, register, and license
We are happy to help. Before you get to the point of asking us for a cigar-friendly payment solution though, you must decide where you want your products to be made available. Because, in addition to federal regulations, tobacco and cigars are also state-controlled issues; therefore you must be sure of the laws in each state you want to sell.
After you have gotten all the necessary info on all the state and federal rules, you generally must file all the paperwork and register as a tobacco vendor in those states. It is helpful, if not essential, to get a tobacco tax consultant and an attorney with experience in the field to make sure you have done all the necessary steps correctly. Tobacco Tax Refund has some pretty extensive links on its site and looks to be a source for more info on state taxes and getting started.
Payment gateways, merchant accounts, and tobacco taxes
Even after you have all of the legalities taken care of you still aren’t done preparing to sell. It’s obvious the tobacco industry is heavily regulated but it also fits into another highly scrutinized category, that of high-risk merchant accounts. Because many of the standard e-commerce payment processors won’t allow you to use their service, you need to ask questions, and trust who is advising you.
You must not only get a payment gateway, but you must also make sure that is compatible with your high-risk category. Again, we can help you with that. Based on which software platform you use for your website, we will recommend a payment gateway and refer a merchant account through one of our many partners.
Can I sell other types of tobacco too?
For the most part, online sales of loose pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, mini-cigar, and cigar sales are usually fine. In addition, payment gateways and tobacco-friendly merchant account providers are typically open for rolling papers and similar accessories.
To get a brief overview of some of the rules we’ve included this infographic with information from the FDA’s “This Is Our Watch” Program. Keep in mind this infographic focuses mostly on retail sales, but a lot of it translates to online sales as well.
While the graphic above gives a good overview, we want to go through some details to help you in the process of setting up your high-risk tobacco e-commerce store. If you should need any help in the process of setting up your e-commerce cigar or tobacco store, just get in touch with us.
We’ll help you out with high-risk merchant accounts and the payment processors you will need. If you want to learn more from the FDA on tobacco sales you can visit the FDA tobacco guidance and compliance page here.
Requirements all tobacco e-commerce sites must meet
Some requirements are universal for online tobacco vendors, while other requirements and regulations are different depending on which state you operate in, or if you plan to distribute your product across state lines. If you are planning on selling premium cigars or other tobacco products online you will generally need to do the following:
- Acquire a Cigarette & Tobacco License
- Implement age verification on your site
- Obtain a payment gateway that integrates with your shopping cart
- Set up a tobacco-friendly merchant account that integrates with your payment gateway
- Require an adult signature on delivery
- Use relevant tobacco warning labels on your site
- Meet local, state, and federal, laws regarding the sale and/or shipping of tobacco products
While we can absolutely help with numbers 2,3, & 4 most of the clear-cut rules are on your end. The main rules the FDA highlights are directly focused on labeling and similar processes applicable for physical stores. Therefore, while the general guidelines we outline do apply, we advise you to seek legal counsel to ensure that you sufficiently follow the regulations the FDA have issued.
This grey area also reflects some of the issues you might face with setting up your merchant account and payment processor, and this is where we can provide you with the expert payment gateway and merchant account guidance you need. Based on our years of experience in the industry we can help you find the best way to accept credit cards for your online tobacco store.
Age verification or validation for your online tobacco site
If you here are multiple plugins you can use to ensure that your e-commerce tobacco site meets this standard processor requirement. Some plug-ins actually verify the user’s age and others simply make them attest to it. Depending on your situation, and your delivery age verification a simple attestation plug-in may work perfectly well depending on your business and therefore the processor we recommend.
As there are quite a few of them, we wanted to highlight a couple of excellent plugins that can help your premium cigar or other tobacco product e-commerce site. As a high-risk merchant of an age-restricted product, you want to ensure that your site’s visitors are the right age, but you don’t want to frustrate your potential customers either.
The plugins we recommend are SEO friendly and will have positive user experience elements, making it easier for your visitor to browse your products and engage with your site. Again, we are not attorneys. You need to consult a qualified attorney to ensure you are following all national and local regulations.
Age verification for tobacco sites on WordPress
WordPress, often combined with WooCommerce, is one of the most common content management systems out there, so chances are either you’re familiar with it or use their services yourself. This is why we want to highlight two specific plugins that will help your tobacco e-commerce store based on user feedback and reviews.
Age Verify is a free plugin that gives you a great deal of freedom over how this age verification gate operates. One of its great features is that you can specify if you want age verification on only certain parts of your site. Another great feature is that you can get Age Verify to “remember” the age of a visitor for a specific amount of time.
While it might require some technical know-how with a custom CSS to make it look great, it will still use stylistic elements pulled directly from your theme by default. Unfortunately, you will need to upgrade to the Pro version if you want to feature your own logo through this plugin. Overall the feedback users are giving the plugin is positive, with an average of 4/5 stars, and 1000+ active installs.
Another plugin option is Age Gate, which is available either free or with Pro subscription. It provides plenty of features that includes customizing the DD MM YYYY layout, an optional “remember me” box, and customization for color, image, background, and other elements that are relevant to your site’s branding, style, and usability.
One especially useful feature is that you can use your logo on the free version of the plugin, which helps integrate your brand across all elements relevant to your online cigar or tobacco store. Even though this plugin is relatively new, it has seen a surge in downloads and active users, boasting +4000 active installs, with an excellent 4/5 star rating currently.
Age verification for tobacco sites on Shopify
If your site is hosted on Shopify, there are plenty of age verification plugins that might suit your store’s needs. There are many options to choose from, and it can be a little challenging to decide which will fit your online tobacco store best. We’ve chosen two examples – Bouncer and EVS Age Verification – which have been reviewed particularly well by their users.
This makes them great examples when discussing the pros and cons of paid vs. free plugins. While free plugins are often a good option when you need to consider your budget, there are definitely some benefits to choosing a paid plugin as well. In general, on Shopify, the penchant is towards paid Age Verification apps, with more ratings and reviews of paid vs. free plugins.
Bouncer by ShopPad
The Bouncer plugin, which goes for $4.99, caters very well to the needs of online tobacco merchants, as it is designed with compliance in mind for tobacco and other age-restricted industries. Customers can verify their age in a variety of ways, including Facebook verification, although you’ll be able to choose which method you prefer to be displayed. It is especially easy to set up and install, and have earned great feedback from their user base due to this. If you should encounter any problems, they also boast great customer service.
Bouncer is also easy to customize to fit your site’s theme, so you’re likely to be able to ensure that your overall design is being met with a good looking plugin that simultaneously makes sure you’re complying with age regulations.
EVS Age Verification
EVS Age Verification, which is free to use on Shopify, is also designed with age restriction compliance in mind. This plugin doesn’t have any options for you to choose which form of verification your customers will use. Instead, it uses drop-down menus so that your customers can enter their age before entering your online store.
It does have the significant added benefit of tracking and storing the transaction history for your customers. This provides a great added benefit for when you’re doing inventory or audits. Although this plugin doesn’t boast as many reviews as some of the paid options that are out there, its users do say that this plugin gets the job done and is a great free option.
Age verification for tobacco sites on BigCommerce
Although Shopify is one of the most well-known e-commerce hosting platforms, there are others out there that you might find better suit your needs. BigCommerce is another platform available for online retailers, which is explicitly marketed toward merchants who wish to create an online store. It has a lot of great features to help you quickly build your site and sell your products or services online.
You can easily accept payments and ship orders with their integrated features and apps. Much like WordPress and Shopify, there are plenty of customizable plugins and options to help you make sure that your high-risk product site is efficient and easy for you and your customers to use, as well as compliant with various regulations that might apply to your products. BigCommerce has a few age verification apps as well, although it must be said that there aren’t as many options as you find on WordPress and Shopify. Therefore, we will quickly go through all three available age verification plugins for BigCommerce.
Veratad age verification for BigCommerce
You can purchase the Veratad plugin for $499 upfront, and then $125 per month. While these numbers might make you instantly think that the other two options are cheaper, it depends on your sales records. If you start generating more than 250/360 transactions a month, Veratad becomes an excellent deal for the service it provides. Veratad has a great deal to offer, and it is especially true considering its use of advanced logic and access to various databases that will help you spot any discrepancies or unusual activity that might be a red flag in terms of maintaining age compliance.
AgeChecker.Net age verification
AgeChecker.Net has a more affordable subscription fee of $25 per month with an additional $.50 charge per verification. It is a little more affordable than Veratad and would be a good option for anyone who needs to consider their budget while maintaining their online store. AgeChecker.Net is specifically designed for age restriction compliance and provide a great, secure, option. Another handy feature is that the AgeChecker.Net plugin offer 24/7 customer service, just in case you have any problems down the road.
EndsVerify age verification
EndsVerify has no monthly subscription fee, but charges between $.45 and $.35 per verification. It also provides in-depth analytics for spending which gives you more insights into your high-risk sales. In addition, the EndsVerify plugin gives you a $5 credit when signing up, allowing you a positive starting point when you start selling your high-risk tobacco products online. While being the cheapest option of the three age verification plugins for BigCommerce, it also provides 24/7 customer service support.
If you are using another platform, like Wix or Squarespace, to sell cigars online feel free to reach out to us anytime for payment processing advice. We have years of expertise to draw on, and we’re more than happy to help you with the expert guidance you need!
Tobacco warning label, and therefore website warning label, requirements
Prior to starting your tobacco focused e-commerce store, you will no doubt have found during your research that tobacco products are required by the FDA to provide suitable warning labels on products such as loose tobacco, cigars, or smokeless tobacco, to name a few. While we will highlight the general requirements for these different categories, it’s important to stress that we are not lawyers and you should consult industry-specific legal advice before you start selling tobacco products online. Important note, it is a standard processor requirement that you include one of the following label requirements on your website as well.
Label requirements for cigars
As of August 10th, 2018, the FDA requires that “all cigar packages that are manufactured, packaged, sold, offered for sale, distributed, or imported for sale or distribution within the United States” are clearly labeled. The products need to be labeled with either of the following warnings:
- WARNING: Cigar smoking can cause cancers of the mouth and throat, even if you do not inhale.
- WARNING: Cigar smoking can cause lung cancer and heart disease.
- WARNING: Cigars are not a safe alternative to cigarettes.
- WARNING: Tobacco smoke increases the risk of lung cancer and heart disease, even in nonsmokers.
- WARNING: Cigar use while pregnant can harm you and your baby.
SURGEON GENERAL WARNING: Tobacco Use Increases the Risk of Infertility, Stillbirth and Low Birth Weight.
- WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.
This applies to all products, and you might be wondering: how am I supposed to label my premium cigars as I sometimes sell them one by one?
Well, this is where the FDA underlines that you need to implement the warning sign “at point-of-sale,” and while they emphasize stylistic points, they don’t clarify how to prepare this label for e-commerce. We advise you to seek legal counsel to ensure that your process and markups are sufficient to meet the legal requirements that are more clearly stated for physical sales.
Label requirements for smokeless tobacco
Since July 2010 the FDA requires warning labels on all smokeless tobacco packaging and advertising. The warning labels must be one of the following four warning statements:
- WARNING: This product can cause mouth cancer.
- WARNING: This product can cause gum disease and tooth loss.
- WARNING: This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.
- WARNING: Smokeless tobacco is addictive.
Additionally, the FDA specifies that these warning requirements also need to meet additional criteria, like being displayed on the 2 “principal display panels.” This means, among other things, that your physical product needs to have the warning clearly displayed where the customer is most likely to see it.
You also must be sure that the warning labels have a clear contrasting text versus background. So, if you have a white background, the text needs to be black, and vice versa. The text needs to be clearly distinct from the rest of the content on your site, so as to be clearly visible and easily recognized by your customer. There are more technical details you need to meet, however, so please visit the FDA website to be sure you meet the requirements and don’t expose yourself to unnecessary legal problems.
Label requirements for loose tobacco
When it comes to roll-your-own cigarette tobacco (which generally cannot be sold online) loose pipe tobacco (which generally can be sold online), or other “covered tobacco products,” new requirements are in place as of the 10th of August 2018. From that date on, you “cannot manufacture, package, sell, offer to sell, distribute, or import for sale or distribution within the United States” without clear warning labels. Practically, it means that you will need to follow similar requirements as already are in place for smokeless tobacco and cigars.
The warning you will need to provide is:
“WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”
You need to display this if you’re selling, or plan to sell any of the following tobacco products on your e-commerce site:
- pipe tobacco
- vaporizers, e-cigarettes, and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)
- roll-your-own and cigarette tobacco
For the label, you need to meet some requirements for your product. As with the smokeless tobacco, the text needs to be black on white, with Helvetica or Arial bold font. It also needs to be located and prominent on the two principal display panels. However, you need to be aware that you may also be required to label products without nicotine as well. For those products, you need to ensure you include the alternative warning label; “This product is made from tobacco.” Be sure to check the FDA directions on how these warnings work.
As there is a multitude of applicable laws tied to selling tobacco products in general, you ought to ensure that you’re well informed by getting assistance from a certified lawyer specializing in your field. If you’re ready to start selling your premium cigars and tobacco products online, we are more than happy to help you set up and get ready!
Mitigate risk, be informed
The best way to get started in this market is to do a lot of research to make sure you are keeping your business above board. Stay on top of current e-commerce litigation and state laws regarding your product. We have found several useful sites to help you get started. Get a detailed read of frequently asked questions about tobacco sales and tax here. Get the skinny on some FDA regulations for selling tobacco products here. Also, please ask us about chargeback mitigation and prevention services, we have some great vendors in that area.
We hope this information helps you find some answers, when you are ready to set up your payment gateway need a software idea or a merchant account recommendation, please contact us, we can guide you through the whole setup process and support your business, one on one, with a dedicated set-up support agent until you are up, running, and selling.
IMPORTANT NOTE: IF YOU ARE SELLING TOBACCO ONLINE YOU MUST GET SOUND LEGAL ADVICE FROM AN ATTORNEY, NOT A WEBSITE. THIS PAGE IS FOR GENERAL INFO ONLY.
We CAN and DO give website owners and developers advice on tobacco-friendly payment gateways and merchant accounts. If you want to sell premium cigars, loose tobacco or other items online, contact us anytime using the form below.