Results of a telephone survey provide insights into the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs of tobacco merchants from two local health units. More than 90% of the retailers said they should not be able to sell cigarettes to minors. They are aware of laws prohibiting such sales but are sceptical about the impact on young people. The majority report being motivated to help protect the health of youth, however, they advise that legislation provides the main reason for not selling cigarettes to minors. Other responses and behaviours of the merchants help provide a profile of an important group that is being asked to stop selling tobacco to young people. The authors classify the retailers into three groups according to the potential influence on their behaviour of messages about health and threats of enforcement. One of the health units had implemented a local intervention, therefore we also compare responses between the two health units. This type of information can be used when selecting strategies to strengthen health policies. Such policies and strategies should include input and feedback from retailers of tobacco.