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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today praised a new campaign to combat tobacco sales to minors – launched by a partnership that includes his office and four other state agencies – calling youth smoking a major public health problem and citing his office's efforts to keep children from starting a deadly habit.
"This campaign marks an important new initiative to help protect the health of California's children," said Lockyer. "Every day, more than 2,000 kids under the age of 18 start smoking, and one-third of those children ultimately will die of a tobacco-related disease. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to reduce those numbers to zero."
The coordinated enforcement effort will include heightened surveillance of retailers, tougher tobacco licensing requirements, a new outreach program to increase awareness about the problem and legislation to stiffen penalties against retailers who break laws that prohibit sales to minors. Besides Lockyer's office, other participating state agencies include the Department of Health Services, Board of Equalization, Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs.
Since he first took office in 1999, Lockyer has prioritized efforts to combat tobacco sales to children. Working with other state Attorneys General, Lockyer has reached agreements to curb such sales with the nation's top retailer (Wal-Mart), number one drug store chain (Walgreens) and largest oil company (ExxonMobil). Other agreements cover ARCO, BP and Amoco.
Combined, these "Assurances of Voluntary Compliance" cover 37,948 retail outlets nationwide and 2,605 in California. The agreements require the chains to adhere to specific practices designed to reduce sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products to minors. Specifically, the retailers must:
Adopt and implement policies to ensure employees know about laws that prohibit tobacco sales to minors, and the health-related reasons for those laws.
Check government-issued photo IDs of all tobacco product purchasers who appear to be at least 27 years old.
Use special cash registers that prompt age and ID checks on tobacco product purchasers.
Prohibit or restrict self-service displays of tobacco products, use of vending machines to sell tobacco products and distribution of free samples of tobacco products.
Implement "mystery shopper" compliance inspection programs.
Report violations of sales-to-minors laws to appropriate corporate officials.
Lockyer has taken other steps to reduce youth access to tobacco products. In 2003, for example, he sued six online retailers for selling cigarettes to minors. One of the cases has been settled, under terms that permanently bar the defendant from selling cigarettes into California. The five other cases remain pending.
Additionally, Lockyer has taken enforcement actions against top manufacturers – most notably R.J. Reynolds (RJR) – to stop practices that increase children's access to tobacco products. Lockyer won a $14.8 million fine against RJR for unlawfully distributing free samples in public places where children were present. He obtained another $20 million fine against RJR for placing cigarette ads in magazines with a high number of readers under 18. In another case, Lockyer and RJR reached a settlement over the company's practice of mailing free cigarettes to consumers without checking the recipients' age.
Additionally, Lockyer and other Attorneys General are working cooperatively with motion picture industry executives and movie directors to develop a voluntary plan to reduce children's exposure to the depiction of smoking in movies, while respecting First Amendment freedoms. A recent study out of Dartmouth University found a correlation between the initiation of smoking by youth and exposure to smoking in movies.
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/.