Tobacco Store Chain Fined

Cigarettes Cheaper, a Benicia, Calif.-based tobacco store chain, has agreed to pay a civil fine of $225,000 and be bound by the terms of a permanent injunction after getting caught selling unsafe cigarette lighters.

Cigarettes Cheaper was warned in 1996 by the Consumer Product Safety Commission not to sell lighters without childproof safety mechanisms, but the company was later ensnared in a sting by undercover commission investigators, according to Scripps-McClatchy News Service.

"This case is an example of a company that sacrificed safety for profits," said assistant U.S. attorney Michael Hirst, one of the government lawyers who prosecuted the civil lawsuit against Cigarettes Cheaper's parent, the Customer Co.

The firm operates more than 600 discount tobacco stores in 21 states. There are 224 stores in 210 California cities. Cigarettes Cheaper President Ned Roscoe, convenience store industry veteran, said yesterday that $225,000 is a lot less than the $6 million sought by the government during mediation. "It is also a lot less than it would cost to go to trial, and it does not mean we are admitting any wrongdoing," he said.

The company agreed to the settlement on Monday, the day before trial was to begin, Vincent said.

Before the 1994 requirement that cigarette lighters be child-resistant, the commission estimated that 7,250 residential structure fires, 190 deaths, and 1,290 injuries was the average annual toll from children younger than 5 playing with lighters.
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