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(LOS ANGELES) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced a settlement with Safeway, Inc. (Safeway) which requires California's second-largest grocery chain to implement policies to reduce tobacco-product sales to minors at its 538 Safeway, Vons, Pavilions and Pak N' Save stores in the state.
"This settlement is a victory for California's children," said Lockyer. "Every day in this country, hundreds of our kids start down a road to addiction and death. I'm pleased Safeway has agreed to take the path of corporate responsibility and help address this serious public health problem."
Lockyer filed the settlement today in Los Angeles County Superior Court, and Judge John P. Shook approved it. The settlement takes effect immediately and resolves a lawsuit filed jointly on June 16, 2004 by Lockyer and Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.
The lawsuit alleged Safeway violated state law by selling tobacco products to minors (under 18) and failing to take proper steps to prevent such sales. Additionally, Safeway violated a city ordinance by failing to prominently display tobacco retail permits, according to the complaint.
Under the settlement Safeway will implement the following policies to prevent tobacco-product sales to minors at its Safeway, Vons, Pavilions and Pak N' Save stores in California:
*Check the ID of any person purchasing tobacco products when the person appears to be under the age of 27, and accept only valid government-issued photo ID as proof of age.
*Use cash registers programmed to prompt ID checks on all tobacco sales.
*Prohibit self-service displays of tobacco products, the use of vending machines to sell tobacco products and distribution of free samples.
*Prohibit the sale of smoking paraphernalia to minors.
*Prohibit the sale of candy, chewing gum or similar items designed to look like cigarettes.
*Restrict tobacco product advertising to the area where tobacco products are displayed.
*Hire an independent entity to conduct random, unannounced compliance checks at 90 stores every year.
Train employees on state and local laws and company policies regarding tobacco sales to minors, including explaining the health-related reasons for laws that restrict youth access to tobacco.
Additionally, the settlement requires Safeway to pay $145,000 in civil penalties, to be divided equally between the state and city. Safeway also will pay the state and city $50,000 each to cover their costs. Lockyer's office will allocate its $50,000 to enforcement of tobacco control and consumer protection laws.
Reducing tobacco-product sales to minors has been one of Lockyer's top priorities. He has helped lead a multi-state enforcement effort focused on retailers with poor records of such sales to minors. Launched in 2000, the initiative by a group of 30 Attorneys General has produced six voluntary compliance agreements with major retailers to reduce tobacco-product sales to minors at more than 40,000 retail outlets across the country.
These "Assurances of Voluntary Compliance" cover the nation's top retail chain (Wal-Mart), number one drug store chain (Walgreens) and largest oil company (ExxonMobil). The other agreements cover stores and gas stations operated by Rite Aid, BP, ARCO and Amoco.
Undercover inspections at all these retailers showed minors were able to buy tobacco products at relatively high rates. Safeway's record was similarly poor, and the policies Safeway must implement under the settlement track provisions of the voluntary agreements reached with the other retailers. A key difference, however, is that the Safeway settlement is in the form of a judgment that can be enforced by the court.
The Attorneys General have long recognized that youth access to tobacco products ranks among the most serious public health problems. Studies show more than 80 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before the age of 18. Research indicates that every day in the United States, more than 2,000 people under the age of 18 start smoking and that one-third of those persons ultimately will die from a tobacco-related disease. Young people are particularly susceptible to the hazards of tobacco, often showing signs of addiction after smoking only a few cigarettes.
In 1999, Lockyer established a full-time Tobacco Litigation and Enforcement Section to enforce California laws regarding the sale and marketing of tobacco products. The section also enforces the national Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached with tobacco companies in November 1998.
Californians who suspect violations of state tobacco laws or the MSA can file complaints by calling 916-565-6486 at any time, or by writing to the Tobacco Litigation and Enforcement Section at P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550. Additional information is available on the Attorney General's web site at http://www.ag.ca.gov/tobacco/.