OBJECTIVES: To determine the extent and nature of local ordinances to regulate tobacco sales to minors, the level of enforcement of local and state laws concerning tobacco availability to minors, and sanctions applied as a result of enforcement. DESIGN: Tobacco control ordinances were collected in 1993 from 222 of the 229 cities greater than or equal to 2000 population in Minnesota, United States. In addition a telephone survey with the head of the agency responsible for enforcement of the tobacco ordinances was conducted. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Presence or absence of legislative provisions dealing with youth and tobacco, including licensure of tobacco retailers, sanctions for selling tobacco products to minors, and restrictions on cigarette vending machines, self-service merchandising, and point-of-purchase advertising; and enforcement of these laws (use of inspections and "sting" operations, and sanctions imposed on businesses and minors). RESULTS: Almost 94% of cities required tobacco licences for retailers. However, 57% of the cities specified licences for cigarettes only. Annual licence fees ranged from $10 to $250, with the higher fees adopted in the previous four years. More than 25% of the cities had adopted some kind of restriction on cigarette vending machines, but only six communities had banned self-service cigarette displays. Three cities specified a minimum age for tobacco sales staff. Fewer than 25% of police officials reported having conducted compliance checks with minors or in-store observations of tobacco sales to determine if minors were being sold tobacco during the current year. Police carrying out compliance checks with youth were almost four times as likely to issue citations as those doing in-store observations. More than 90% of police reported enforcement of the law against tobacco purchase or possession by minors, and nearly 40% reported application of penalties against minors. CONCLUSIONS: Almost 75% of the cities have done nothing to change policies or enforcement practices to encourage compliance with tobacco age-of-sale legislation, and only a few of the remaining cities have adopted optimal policies. In addition, officials in Minnesota cities are much more likely to use enforcement strategies against minors who buy tobacco than against merchants who sell tobacco.