The attorney general and agents for the state of Washington have announced a crackdown on internet sales of tobacco products to kids.
Agents on Dec. 21 sent cease-and-desist orders to five online tobacco merchants for selling “bidis” to children from age 12 to 17. The sales practice was confirmed in a multistate sting operation by 17 state attorneys general.
The hand-rolled, candy-flavored cigarettes, made primarily in India, are a greater health hazard than regular cigarettes, said state Attorney General Christine Gregoire, who helped negotiate a multibillion-dollar settlement between the states and the American tobacco industry last year.
“Washington state has a zero tolerance for selling tobacco to minors,” Gregoire said. “We will not stand for tobacco being sold to children, whether it comes from a local retailer or over the internet.”
Washington’s internet sting operations were conducted by two children, using false names, with a state credit card. They made purchases, totaling between $30 and $60, from each of the companies. Gregoire said the underage youths were never turned down and were seldom asked their age.
The five merchants are Ziggy’s Tobacco of Massachusetts, Durango Smoke Shop of Colorado, The Tobacco Shop of Indiana, Uptown Cigar Company of New York, and Calabash Habana Cigar Cafe of Maine. None had any immediate comment.
Gregoire said bidis (pronounced beedee) come in strawberry, chocolate, grape and other flavors children would like. The smokes must be puffed more frequently than regular cigarettes to keep them from going out. This subjects smokers to more tar and nicotine, and bidis already have three times more nicotine and five times more tar than regular cigarettes, she said.
Erik Mertens, a junior at Kennewick High School, said the industry has “played kids for fools … and now we’ve got people over the internet selling cigarettes that taste like strawberry soda or a chocolate bar. Any junior high kid with a computer and a modem can order them.”