Web Tobacco Sales Under Fire

SACRAMENTO -- Two California lawmakers plan to introduce legislation next month requiring age verification to buy cigarettes over the Internet, after a state government staff member managed to get a carton of Camel Lights dropped off on his porch for his 2-year-old daughter.

It is illegal for anyone under 18 to purchase cigarettes, but lawmakers say the relative anonymity of the Internet allows minors to use their parents' credit cards or pay cash on delivery to purchase cigarettes from 88 online stores and American Indian cyber "trading posts," according to the San Francisco Chronicle

"Nobody is checking who is going online. Nobody is checking who is buying cigarettes, and that is why kids are going online," said Assemblyman Dario Frommer, (D-Los Angeles).

To test the system, Frommer's chief of staff, Dan Reeves, recently ordered a carton of Camel cigarettes from a New York tribe using his daughter's name, Madelyn Reeves. The package was delivered in her name, left on their porch and then used as a prop at Frommer's press conference yesterday.

The Web site, www.ojibwas.com, warns users three times that they have to be over 18 to use the site. Purchases are made by credit card, but Frommer said other sites allow people to pay C.O.D.

Rhode Island and Kansas appear to be the only states that require age verification for purchasing cigarettes online. New York tried to ban all Internet sales of cigarettes, but a federal court struck down the law, saying it violated the constitutional right to conduct interstate commerce, the report said.

Cigarette companies say they are not opposed to stricter controls on minors buying cigarettes. Tom Ryan, a spokesman for tobacco giant Philip Morris, said the company believes "very firmly that all of our products should be sold with all applicable laws."

The California measure would require Internet vendors to verify a person's age using a database of state birth records or with a faxed copy of valid identification; require either a credit card or personal check for purchases, not cash; and require the buyer to personally sign for their package.

It is unclear how many minors are purchasing cigarettes on the Internet. A recent study by the University of Southern California questioned 17,000 sophomores and seniors at high schools, and 2.2 percent said they had attempted to purchase cigarettes online.
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