Attorney General Hardy Myers today announced the resolution of legal action taken against four internet-based tobacco retailers for sales to underage buyers. Myers also announced a new state project and a new national ad campaign to reduce the onset of youth smoking. "Despite the efforts of many parents, schools, community groups, responsible retailers and law enforcement, most Oregon smokers begin smoking during childhood and adolescence," Myers said. "No one who would claim to be a statewide leader can retreat from the challenge of confronting efforts to get our kids to start smoking, the single most preventable cause of death and disease in our society."
Myers first announced the conclusion of legal actions that began with an undercover investigation into sales of "bidis" - imported, hand-rolled cigarettes - to children. Using authority granted by the 1999 Legislature, Department of Justice (DOJ) investigators asked children under DOJ supervision to use the telephone and internet to attempt to purchase bidis from out-of-state sellers. Several sellers failed to require any proof of age. One 8-year-old undercover shopper got home delivery of bidis, including a free lighter labeled "keep away from children."
Myers threatened to sue four companies in December 1999. Today, Myers filed Assurances of Voluntary Compliance (AVC) with the Marion County Circuit Court signed by three of the companies and will file the fourth AVC this week. Each company commits to comply with all Oregon laws governing sale of tobacco products, including a commitment not to sell bidis or any other tobacco products to minors in Oregon by any means, including telephone or internet. Named in the assurances are Ziggy's Tobacco & Novelty of Worcester, Massachusetts; Durango Smoke Shop, Durango, Colorado; Calabash Habana Cigar CafŽ, Portland, Maine; and Uptown Cigar Company, Kingston, New York. Myers also announced the formation of an Attorney General's Committee on Kids and Tobacco charged to help develop more effective efforts to reduce youth smoking in Oregon. The Committee will include representatives of a broad spectrum of interests with connections to the issue of youth smoking, including law enforcement, business, the public health community, schools, Indian tribes and others.
"The Committee will conduct community forums in six regions of the state," Myers said. "Witnesses invited to testify at the beginning of each forum will provide basic information about the toxic effects of tobacco on children, how children get tobacco, and about current state and community-based efforts to reduce youth smoking that are having a positive effect. Oregonians will also be asked to give their recommendations for additional steps, including legislation or other policy recommendations." Governor Kitzhaber joined Myers in announcing the Committee's formation. "I pledge my strong support of Attorney General Myers' efforts to reduce youth smoking," Kitzhaber said. "Oregon must continue to seek out new solutions and additional resources that will keep kids from becoming addicted to tobacco."
A third tobacco-related announcement by Myers resulted from the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between the states and major tobacco companies in 1998. The MSA created an organization now known as the American Legacy Foundation. Today the Foundation will begin a national anti-tobacco advertising campaign targeting children. As authorized by the MSA, the Foundation will spend $200 million on the initial ad campaign.
"A recent study by the National Cancer Institute has shown that advertising is a more powerful force than peer pressure in causing kids to start smoking. Since one in four Oregon teenagers smokes regularly, we know advertising has worked for the tobacco industry," Myers said. "With the advent of the American Legacy Foundation's anti-tobacco ad campaign, funded with tobacco settlement dollars, anti-smoking forces will be able add a major new effort to counter industry attempts to promote smoking through advertising."
"The Foundation's campaign will supplement MSA provisions that prohibit the industry from targeting youth in its marketing efforts, and that prohibit a number of specific marketing tactics that can impact youth," Myers said. More information is available from the Department of Justice web site, www.doj.state.or.us. Information about the American Legacy Foundation is available at www.americanlegacy.org.
Kristen Grainger, (503) 378-6002.