Texas Attorney General John Cornyn said Wednesday that his office has filed suit to shut down a Virginia-based tobacco e-tailer, E-Commerce Today, that allegedly failed to take precautions to prevent the sale of tobacco products to Texas minors.
Cornyn said that E-Commerce Today’s e-tail site, Supercheapcigarettes.com, failed to verify that online purchasers are at least 18 years old and that it allowed the delivery of cigarettes without ensuring that an adult over 18 signed for the purchase.
“Those who fail to act responsibly to protect our children from tobacco marketing are threatening the health of our young people for profit, and the state of Texas will not tolerate that,” Cornyn said.
Added Cornyn: “These businesses should play by the same rules as bricks-and-mortar retailers in verifying ages of buyers.”
Sales of tobacco products to minors under 18 is prohibited in Texas and can be pursuedas a criminal offense.
Visitors to the Supercheapcigarettes.com Web site were told that they can order cigarettes at discount prices “from the comfort and safety of your own home and have them delivered to your door.” The site is not currently accessible.
Supercheapcigarettes.com warned visitors that there was a system in place to prevent the sale of tobacco to minors. However, when investigators for the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division and Internet Bureau logged on to the site to purchase cigarettes, they found that the company processed transactions even when the undercover purchasers entered dates of birth showing that they were not 18 or older.
Investigators also found that the company made no effort to determine the age of the buyer with money order purchases.
The Texas lawsuit is not the first legal salvo regarding online cigarette sales. In October, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W), the third largest cigarette manufacturer in the U.S., filed suit in a Manhattan federal court to overturn a New York state law banning the sale of cigarettes on the Internet.
The suit, which has not yet come to trial, alleges that the law — which makes it a crime to ship or transport cigarettes sold via mail order, telephone or the Internet to New York residents — is an “unconstitutional interference with commerce.” The statute, signed in August by New York Governor George Pataki, was the first of its kind in the United States.
In February, an investigation by the Oregon Attorney General’s Office found that several online sellers required no age verification and sold cigarettes to children as young as 8 years old.
Buying cigarettes online not only appeals to teenagers, who hope to purchase online what is not available to them at the corner market, but also to adults hoping to avoid the hefty taxes that add as much as US$10 to the price of a carton of cigarettes.
For instance, smokers in Illinois pay up to $30 for a premium carton of cigarettes; the same cigarettes can be purchased online from Dirtcheapcig.com for only $19.99.
Consumers can save even more money if they are willing to smoke non-premium cigarettes and order from sites operated on Native American reservations. Taxfreetobacco.com sells Native All Natural cigarettes for as low as $11 per carton, and on its site promises customers that it does not report to any state taxation or tobacco department.
While I certainly cannot argue that e-businesses such as this must do all they can to ensure they are not distributing to minors, I worry that the fallout from the lack thereof by some businesses will cause a panic, thereby forcing all of them out of business. As a smoker (and yes, I know it’s bad for me, so are a lot of things no one is screaming to outlaw, so myob – it’s my decision) I am thankful that these e-tailers are out there, and hope they stay.
The powers that be don’t seem to realize that the easiest way to put the e-tailers out of business, if they really wanted to, would be to lower the punitive & excessive taxes attached to cigarettes in certain states. What if there was a 70+% tax on dish soap? No one would stand for it! But because of the product, users are horrendously overtaxed without any fuss. Ever hear of taxation without representation? New flash: I smoke AND I vote!
Personally I would like to see the taxes on smoking quadrupled. If I have to breathe the same air as you, then I want to make it difficult.
I hate your being able to kill me slowly.