Can You Mail Cigarettes?

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November 22, 2023

According to data from 2021, an estimated 11.5% of the entire adult population of the United States smoke. Each smoking adult may find it convenient to send or receive their favorite cigarette brand over the mail.  

However, can you mail cigarettes, cigars, or any tobacco-based products via couriers like USPS (United States Postal Service)? Are there rules and regulations concerning the shipping of these cigarettes in the United States? 

This article tackles the rules imposed by USPS and other shipping companies concerning the shipment of cigars, cigarettes, and other tobacco-based products domestically and internationally. It also details some U.S. laws that are the bases for these regulations. 

Furthermore, this write-up provides additional information about other items couriers don’t ship or impose stringent regulations on. 

If you need access to contact information for over 31,330 post offices in the U.S., visit FindPostOffice.org. You can go to your local post office and apply the advice provided by this article concerning the shipping of cigarettes and other tobacco-based products in the United States. 

Can You Ship Tobacco With USPS?

You can ship tobacco, but USPS limits how much you can send via courier service depending on the type of tobacco product shipment. Additionally, USPS has specific requirements like a license so you can make these shipments. 

The license requirement ensures that any shipper wanting to mail tobacco products to anyone using the Postal Service must comply with USPS regulations and U.S. laws.

Aside from requesting a license, the postal employee at the post office must first approve your tobacco product shipment. Additionally, the recipient must be of legal age. Proof will be required upon receipt of the package. 

When Can You Send Tobacco Through USPS?

There are specific situations when you can send tobacco through the mail. You can’t just casually ship a pack of cigars, cigarettes, or tobacco leaves via USPS. 

The Postal Service follows the rules and regulations imposed by U.S. law concerning shipping tobacco and tobacco-based products through the mail service. 

As mentioned, there are restrictions when sending these products. The following is a rundown of these restrictions to know when to send tobacco through USPS. 

You Can Only Ship Cigarettes With USPS in Limited Circumstances

Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco can only be shipped via USPS under the following circumstances:

  • Business or regulatory purposes
  • In small quantities or as “gift” shipments to recipients
  • To mail a return to a manufacturer because of an unacceptable tobacco product
  • Shipments done within Alaska or Hawaii (intra-Alaska or intra-Hawaii)

Shipping Cigarettes to an APO, FPO, or DPO

Suppose you plan to send to a military base like an APO (Army or Air Force Post Office), FPO (Fleet Post Office), or DPO (Diplomatic Post Office). In that case, the package content must adhere to the prohibitions imposed on the country where the military installation is located. 

Cigars Are Totally Fair Game

As mentioned by USPS, you can freely ship cigars domestically. However, shipment of cigars to APO, FPO, and DPO locations in other countries is subject to restrictions imposed by the destination country where the tobacco product will be shipped.

What About FedEx or UPS?

FedEx (Federal Express) and UPS (United Parcel Service) are other shipping giants that provide shipping services worldwide. The following section explains whether these two courier companies ship tobacco and related products. 

Can You Send Tobacco Through FedEx?

FedEx doesn’t allow the shipping of tobacco or tobacco products. Unlike USPS, FedEx won’t accept shipments with tobacco products.

FedEx will not ship these products even if the customer has a tobacco-shipping license or if the delivery is for business purposes.

Furthermore, the prohibition doesn’t end with simple tobacco products. It extends to the following items:

  • Cigars
  • Cigarettes
  • Smokeless tobacco
  • Loose tobacco
  • eCigarettes
  • Vaporizers
  • Shisha or hooka

Can You Ship Tobacco With UPS?

According to UPS, shippers licensed and authorized to ship tobacco can use UPS to transport packages with tobacco products according to what is allowed by state laws or local laws. 

UPS provides a list of policies regarding the shipment of tobacco and products derived from the same plant. 

  1. People included in the noncompliant list released by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives PACT act won’t be catered to by UPS. 

Note that the PACT Act, or The “Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act,” was created by the U.S. Congress in 2010. It aims to prevent the profiting from the illegal sales of tobacco products by criminal organizations. The act also imposes penalties against sales tax payment evaders. 

  1. UPS prohibits shipping cigarettes or “little cigars” to recipients in any state. 
  1. UPS prohibits the shipping of all vaping products domestically. This prohibition includes any import and export of vapes regardless of the nicotine content or the state.  
  1. UPS requires an Adult Signature Required service for tobacco product shipments. This signature service requires the recipient to be 21 years or older upon delivery. 
  1. Federal law requires all permissible tobacco shipments to have proper labeling, packaging, record-keeping, and tax-collecting.
  1. Federal law limits how much tobacco a mailer can ship via courier services.
  1. Some states require tax stamps for some or all tobacco products.

Does Your Business Manufacture or Sell Cigarettes?

Let’s say you’re a small online store that sells tobacco products. In that case, you should understand the limitations and restrictions imposed by shipping companies in the country. 

As mentioned above, USPS provides limitations on tobacco products, especially cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

Meanwhile, FedEx doesn’t cater to the shipping of tobacco products, even if you have a license to ship. 

However, UPS doesn’t allow the shipment of cigarettes or “littler cigars,” even if the law allows deliveries from retailers or distributors, provided they have a license to mail tobacco and its products.

What Happens if You Mail Cigarettes?

Suppose you mail packs of cigarettes via USPS, and they don’t comply with the agency’s regulations. In that case, it may be deemed nonmailable and be confiscated. However, cigarettes can be shipped via USPS under specific conditions. 

FedEx won’t allow you to ship cigarettes using their courier service. Meanwhile, UPS will only ship tobacco products if the sender has a license. 

Definitions

You need to know some definitions to understand better the restrictions shipping companies impose on tobacco and tobacco products. 

You must know the difference between tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes. USPS treats each item differently, which may result in confusion. 

  • Tobacco product: Any product made or derived from the tobacco plant or containing nicotine from any source used for human consumption.
  • Cigar: USPS defines cigars as a roll of tobacco wrapped in tobacco leaf or any wrapping material laced with tobacco.
  • Cigarettes: The difference between cigars and cigarettes is the wrapping. A cigarette is a tobacco wrapped in paper containing no tobacco. 

However, even if the wrapper contains tobacco, the product can be considered a cigarette if it appears similar and is sold as one. A roll-your-own tobacco is also considered a cigarette. 

  • Smokeless tobacco: Any finely cut, powdered, or ground tobacco leaf intended to be placed in the mouth or nose or consumed without burning. Thus, it produces no smoke. 

Shipping Tobacco

USPS requires you to package any tobacco product intended for shipping properly. Ensure the information on the label is accurate. Furthermore, you must show USPS your license to ship tobacco products. 

Like cigarettes, tobacco products can’t be shipped via FedEx even if the shipper has a license. 

For UPS tobacco shipping, you must agree, sign, and comply with the provisions stated in your agreement with UPS for transporting tobacco products. 

Vaping Products

Vaping products or eCigarettes often use electronic devices to deliver substances like nicotine, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), and CBD (cannabidiol), chemicals, flavorings, and other substances into the body instead of the usual methods, like smoking tobacco or cannabis.  

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the chemicals in marijuana that causes most of the drug’s psychological effects. Meanwhile, cannabidiol (CBD) is an essential component of medical marijuana. This chemical is derived from the hemp plant, which belongs to the same species as marijuana. 

There are other delivery methods, like dab pens, for dabbing substances into the body.  

Know the Rules and Regulations to Ship Tobacco

USPS, FedEx, and UPS all adhere to federal law when determining the mailability of tobacco and other related products. 

Knowing these applicable laws is crucial to understanding better how to deal with tobacco shipment, mainly if an eCommerce store sells tobacco products. 

The U.S. Postal Service Enforces Tobacco Restrictions

Former President Obama signed the Trafficking Act passed by Congress, which states that the mailing of almost all tobacco products must be prohibited or banned. The U.S. Postal Service has narrow exceptions regarding the mailing of tobacco products. 

However, there are exemptions, especially for tobacco companies shipping their products for business purposes. 

18 U.S. Code § 1716e – Tobacco Products As Nonmailable

This federal law says that cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, which are tobacco products, are nonmailable. Because these items are not suited for mailing, USPS restricts customers from sending these tobacco products over the mail. 

However, as mentioned above, there are exceptions, such as exempting cigars from this restriction. Also, restrictions on tobacco products are not applicable for shipments made within Alaska or Hawaii. 

This federal law states that within 180 days of the enactment of the PACT Act, the postmaster general must issue a final rule establishing the standards and requirements for all mailings that involve tobacco and its products. 

Domestic Shipping Prohibitions and Restrictions

The following section tackles the prohibitions and restrictions implemented by USPS in dealing with mailing tobacco products and other items that may be deemed nonmailable. 

Mailer Guidelines

It’s crucial to understand that as a mailer or USPS customer, it’s your responsibility to do the following:

  1. Review and understand the following regulations in the USPS Publication 52, Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail, to determine whether an item is mailable.
  2. Observe strict adherence to USPS regulations and U.S. laws.
  3. Ensure your packages are packed as required by the post office and secured. If you can’t do the packaging yourself, you can bring the item and have it packaged and labeled by a postal employee.

Domestically Prohibited Items

Here is a list of items that USPS said are nonmailable:

  • Airbags
  • Ammunition
  • Explosives
  • Gasoline
  • Liquid mercury
  • Marijuana (cannabis sativa), medical or not

Note that hemp or CBD (cannabidiol) is allowed but restricted. 

Domestically Restricted Items

The following items can be shipped only if the regulations are met. The protocols imposed are based on USPS Publication 52, Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail.

Aerosols

An aerosol is a suspension of liquid or small solid particles in gas. For this item, mailable gases include the following:

  • Propane
  • Butane
  • Fire extinguishers

Alcoholic Beverages

You can’t send beer, liquor, or wine through USPS except in limited circumstances. Note that when you want to reuse a box with an alcoholic beverage logo or label for packaging, such label or logo should be removed.

Cigarettes, Cigars, and Tobacco

As mentioned, cigars can be sent domestically or internationally. However, cigarettes and other tobacco products are subject to USPS restrictions. 

Cremated Remains

USPS allows the shipping of cremated remains of your loved ones or pets. You may send cremated remains domestically via Priority Mail Express. However, you must ensure the container holding the ashes is strong, durable, and properly sealed. 

You need to use a USPS cremated remains kit as an outer package. Label 139 (the label for cremated remains) should be placed on all sides of the packaging (top, all four sides, and bottom). 

You can acquire the cremated remains kit and the needed labels for free from the Postal Store.

Dry Ice

The substance called “dry ice” is solidified carbon dioxide. Dry ice can be mailed as a refrigerant to cool hazardous or nonhazardous material during transit. 

However, you must package dry ice in containers that release carbon dioxide. 

Firearms

USPS allows only licensed firearms manufacturers and dealers to mail or receive handguns. A shipper must comply with the applicable guidelines even if the firearm is unloaded.

Glues

Some glues are flammable and have different ranges of flashpoints. However, flammable glues may be mailed if they’re part of a consumer commodity. These types of adhesives can only be sent via ground transportation.

Hand Sanitizer

Most hand sanitizers contain alcohol, which is a flammable substance. Because of alcohol, hand sanitizers like wipes are shipped as hazardous material in the United States. 

Flammable materials are limited to surface transportation and only in domestic mail. Customers can’t ship flammable materials by international mail. Also included in these destinations are military post offices like APOs, FPOs, and DPOs. 

Hemp Products (Including CBD)

You can send hemp-based products domestically if your shipments comply with all applicable laws. Remember that hemp-based products, including CBD, with a THC concentration of 0.3%, can be mailed domestically only when:

  • The mailer complies with federal, state, and local laws about using hemp-based products approved by the U.S. Drug Administration.
  • The mailer keeps the records establishing compliance with such laws and plans. These records include licenses, compliance reports, or laboratory test results for at least three years after the mailing date. 

Lithium Batteries

You can send small, consumer-type primary lithium batteries or cells like those used for flashlights and power cameras, which are mailable to domestic destinations under certain conditions. 

You can only mail pre-owned, defective, or damaged electronic devices containing lithium batteries via ground transportation. Air transportation of these types of batteries is not allowed. 

Your package must have a marking on the outer packaging that reads “Restricted Electronic Device” and “Surface Transportation Only.”

Live Animals

Surprisingly, you can send live animals via USPS. However, there are limited circumstances, and they are subject to specific packaging requirements. You can’t send pets and warm-blooded animals via mail. 

Other live animals, such as poultry, bees, and reptiles, have specific packaging requirements that must be met. USPS only ships live animals if the packaging is appropriate for transportation. 

Matches

Safety matches, where the match head only ignites when struck against a specific surface, can be sent via ground transportation. However, safety matches can’t be shipped internationally.

Medicines and Prescription Drugs

Medicines are controlled substances subject to strict regulations. Only Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-registered distributors are allowed to mail prescription medication. The same rules apply to shipping over-the-counter medicines.

Nail Polish

Flammable nail polish may be domestically mailed if considered a consumer commodity. Some of these products may only be shipped via ground transportation. The mailer must know the nail polish’s flashpoint and if it is flammable or toxic. 

Paint

Even if they’re flammable or combustible, paint-related items are generally mailable, provided that the paint qualifies as a consumer commodity material and adheres to the quantity limit and packaging requirement. Nonflammable paint, like water-based latex paint, is not regulated and, thus, not restricted. 

Perfume

Perfumes with alcohol can’t be shipped internationally or domestically using air transportation. However, customers can ship these fragrant substances via ground transport within the United States.

Perishable Items

Any material that can deteriorate in a short time is perishable. Examples of these items are food, plants, and some live animals. The mailer can ship perishable items. However, they should do so at their own risk. USPS requires the items to be specially packed and sent to a recipient before they rot. 

Poisons

USPS considered poisons as toxins. It’s the customer’s responsibility to know the toxicity of the materials shipped. Some toxins or poisons can be sent via air and ground transportation, while some types are shipped via ground only. 

How to Ship Tobacco

You can ship tobacco only if you adhere to the rules and regulations imposed by the law and USPS. One crucial requirement is packaging your tobacco products properly before sending them to the nearest post office

How to Pack Tobacco for Shipping

You can follow these tips on how to pack tobacco for shipping via mail. 

  • Use the appropriate packaging material for shipping these kinds of goods. 
  • Cardboard boxers
  • Bubble wrap
  • Packing peanuts or cushioning materials
  • Adhesives and scissors
  • Once you’ve set up your packaging, you need to fill the bottom of the package with cushioning material.
  • Cover the entire package with bubble wrap. Make sure all extra spaces inside the box are cushioned to avoid problems.
  • When sending more than one item, use packages with cardboard dividers to separate items.

You can easily determine whether your package can be sent via mail by contacting your local post office. If you need quick access to the contact information of all USPS retail offices in the country, visit FindPostOffice.org. 

Access all the information you need through our website to acquire the Postal Service’s help, especially for packaging-regulated materials like cigarettes. 

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. Can you mail cigarettes from the U.S. to Canada?

You can only ship cigarettes from the U.S. to addresses in Canada if you are a manufacturer or retailer or the shipping is between two consumers. 

  1. Can I send cigarettes to the U.K. by mail?

You can mail cigarettes to the United Kingdom only if you’ve adhered fully to the restrictions and regulations imposed by courier services like USPS. 

References

  1. Burden of Cigarette Use in the U.S.
    https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/resources/data/cigarette-smoking-in-united-states.html
  2. Domestic Shipping Prohibitions, Restrictions, & HAZMAT
    https://www.usps.com/ship/shipping-restrictions.htm
  3. Tobacco shipping is prohibited
    https://www.fedex.com/en-us/shipping/guidelines-for-shipping-tobacco.html
  4. Shipping Tobacco
    https://www.ups.com/us/en/support/shipping-support/shipping-special-care-regulated-items/prohibited-items/tobacco.page
  5. Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act
    https://www.atf.gov/alcohol-tobacco/prevent-all-cigarette-trafficking-pact-act
  6. Tobacco product
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/definitions/uscode.php?width=840&height=800&iframe=true&def_id=21-USC-524689828-415031064&term_occur=999&term_src=
  7. 47 Cigarettes, Smokeless Tobacco, and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems
    https://pe.usps.com/text/pub52/pub52c4_025.htm?_gl=1x8ohaq_gcl_auNjc4NTU5MTUyLjE2OTYwNTI2MTY._gaMTAzNjI5NTM3OS4xNjk2MDUyNjE2_ga_3NXP3C8S9V*MTY5NjY0MzMxNy40Mi4wLjE2OTY2NDMzMjAuMC4wLjA.
  8. E-CIGARETTE, OR VAPING, PRODUCTS VISUAL DICTIONARY
    https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/pdfs/ecigarette-or-vaping-products-visual-dictionary-508.pdf
  9. Cannabidiol (CBD): What we know and what we don’t
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476
  10. 18 U.S. Code § 1716E – Tobacco products as nonmailable
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1716E