Action Needed Now to Stop Illegal Traffic in Tobacco

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Minors are becoming addicted to cigarettes through illegal, uncontrolled Internet sales.

While state and local governments make sporadic attempts to tax Internet tobacco sales, too little attention is being paid to the growing health threat to teens posed by the rampant, uncontrolled online traffic in cigarettes, a newly-formed advocacy group charged.

“Business and government are standing idly by, doing nothing while hundreds of thousands of young people are being hooked on nicotine through illegal, uncontrolled online cigarette sites,” said John H. Knowles Jr., a visiting scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health and co-founder of e-pidemic.org (http://www.e-pidemic.org).

“Our children are being harmed by unprincipled tobacco pushers, small-time shysters who use their rudimentary knowledge of the Internet to set up crude online tobacco sales sites that make no reasonable attempt to verify the age of their customers,” Knowles said.

A research effort by e-pidemic.org has catalogued more than 100 cigarette sites and so far has not found a single one that requires verifiable proof of age, said James R. Hood, the organization’s co-founder.

“We have been researching these sites, identifying their operators and documenting their flagrant disregard of the law,” said Hood, president and founder of ConsumerAffairs.Com, which has funded e-pidemic.org’s efforts to date.

“We are going to hunt them down, expose them, turn them over to local authorities and demand that they be prosecuted,” Hood said. “We are also going to demand that FedEx, UPS, the United States Postal Service and other enablers of illegal tobacco sales take greater responsibility for verifying the age of those who accept deliveries of tobacco products.

“There may be some question over the legality of taxing Internet sales,” said Hood. “There is no question that selling and delivering cigarettes to minors is illegal and immoral.“

e-pidemic.org is also gathering electronic signatures on an online petition that asks Google, Yahoo and the other major search engines to remove tobacco dealers from their listings.

“We commend the search engines for refusing to accept advertising from cigarette sites. Now it’s time to remove these sites entirely from public view. There is no justification for promoting businesses engaged in illegal activity.,” Knowles said.

The group commended Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who recently won an injunction requiring a now-defunct New Mexico-based online merchant to ensure that no one under 18 may purchase its tobacco products over the Internet.

“If more attorneys general would follow Abbott’s lead, these illegal activities could be stopped in short order,” Knowles said.

Tobacco use is one of the nation’s leading health problems, killing more than 430,000 Americans and costing more than $38 billion in taxpayer dollars each year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80 percent of tobacco users started as teens. During these adolescent years, major changes in the brain occur, including those involved with regulating the effects of drugs and other stimuli, studies have shown.

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