Virginia Puts Restrictions on Internet Cigarette Sales

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Virginia Puts Restrictions on Internet Cigarette Sales

RICHMOND, Va. -- Gov. Mark R. Warner signed legislation yesterday that puts more restrictions on Internet cigarette sales in Virginia.

The law requires online cigarette vendors to obtain written proof of age from buyers. It also requires vendors to provide records of their sales to the state, including the names and addresses of customers. Buyers must also provide proof of age at the time of delivery.

The law "makes sure we have new tools to stop underage smoking," Warner said. He called it "a model piece of legislation" for other states. The law also defines penalties, including fines of up to $50,000, for selling counterfeit cigarettes or state tax stamps.

The legislation was sponsored in the General Assembly by Sen. Walter A. Stosch, (R-Henrico) and backed by Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest cigarette company. The company has lobbied at the state and federal levels for tougher restrictions on Internet sales and penalties for counterfeiting.

Virginia's law "is the most comprehensive legislation passed in any state," dealing with online and contraband sales, said Jack Holleran, the company's vice president of brand integrity.
New York in May passed a law to completely ban Internet tobacco sales. The measure is set to take effect Wednesday.

Sharp increases in cigarette prices in recent years have given rise to many Internet sites that sell cheaper cigarettes, but state and federal authorities say many of those sites do not pay taxes and have few controls to prevent children from buying cigarettes. Philip Morris has sued some Internet vendors for trademark infringement, and at least four states have taken action against some Web sites.