Oregon Stings Four Web Tobacco Dealers for Minor Sales

Attorneys General in 17 states have launched undercover operations against online tobacco dealers with the latest results being four Web smoke vendors reportedly agreeing to ban sales to under-age buyers in Oregon.

According to a report by the Associated Press, Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers said that three dealers have signed agreements, which were filed circuit court on Monday, and a fourth has agreed to file an agreement with the court later this week. None of the dealers admitted breaking any laws.

The agreement stipulates that a dealer caught selling tobacco products to minors faces fines as high as $25,000 (US$) for each instance. The levy is 50 times Oregon’s maximum $500 penalty for selling tobacco products to minors, the AP said.

Focus on “Bidis”

An undercover operation launched by the Oregon Justice Department was coordinated with similar investigations in other states, the report stated, adding that Oregon focused on “bidis,” — hand-rolled, imported cigarettes from India, with flavors such as chocolate, wild cherry and mango. While bidis are smaller than the average cigarette, studies have shown they pack a more powerful punch, delivering more than three times the amount of nicotine and five times the amount of tar than that found in regular cigarettes.

“From the attorney general’s standpoint, the only reason these cigarettes come in so many flavors is that they’re trying to entice children,” said Martha Harmon, director of communications for Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano.

As part of Arizona’s investigation, a 16 year-old ordered bidis on the Internet and via phone several times. When one of the orders arrived, it contained free sample packs in addition to the order.

Sales to Eight Year-Olds

Under the supervision of Oregon state investigators, minors attempted to buy bidis over the Internet and by telephone. Myers said Oregon’s sting revealed that several sellers required no proof of age, and resulted in an eight year-old getting home delivery of cigarettes along with a lighter with a “Keep Away from Children” warning on it, the AP reported.

The dealers signing the pacts were: Ziggy’s Tobacco & Novelty of Worcester, Massachusetts; Durango Smoke Shop of Durango, Colorado.; and Calabash Habana Cigar Cafe of Portland, Maine. Uptown Cigar Co. of Kingston, New York, accepted the terms and plans to sign the agreement, the AP report said.

According to a 1999 survey conducted by the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program, 40 percent of kids polled had smoked bidis, and half believed that bidis could not give them cancer. Bidis smokers reportedly run twice the risk of lung cancer as those who smoke Indian filtered cigarettes, five times the risk of heart disease than non-smokers, and are more likely to get upper respiratory, stomach or liver cancer than regular smokers.

Recently, Washington State went a step further in its campaign against bidis. The State Liquor Control Board sent a cease and desist order to five tobacco merchants warning that if they continued selling to minors they would face prosecution for violations of Washington State tobacco law and banned the sale of bidis to the state’s adults as well as minors.

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