Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive

Tuesday, December 21, 1999


States crack down on Internet sale of tobacco product to minors

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn announced today that Texas will take enforcement action against Internet merchants accused of selling a tobacco product known as "bidis" to minors. In addition, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) in a letter to members of Congress, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Customs and the Federal Trade Commission, has asked the Federal Government to enforce laws to ensure "bidis" are not available to children in the U.S.

"This clearly illegal and predatory business practice must come to an end," said Attorney General Cornyn.

"Bidis" are small, brown, hand-rolled cigarettes produced primarily in India. These cigarettes, popular among smokers for their flavor, contain more than three times the amount of nicotine and more than five times the amount of tar than regular cigarettes. Additionally, "bidi" smokers are at greater risk of developing life-threatening diseases such as cancer and heart disease. These cigarettes are readily available to minors over the Internet.

Over the last six weeks, the Texas attorney general's office and offices of 16 other state attorneys general supervised Internet and telephone purchases of "bidis." In most cases, children and investigators were able to order "bidis" and have them delivered to the address they supplied. The Internet sellers and telephone operators did nothing to verify the ages of the purchasers during the transactions.

In Pennsylvania, a 9-year-old successfully bought "bidis" over the telephone. When asked to fax a copy of his driver's license, the child sent a 38-year-old undercover agent's license. The company did not further question the child's age. In Texas, an investigator attempted to make four "bidis" purchases through the Internet without providing his age. Three of the companies filled his order, the fourth company indicated in a letter that they were out of stock.

As part of its enforcement action, Texas is sending warning letters to on-line companies found selling "bidis" to children. Citing Federal Food and Drug Administration's regulations and the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, the letter requires violators to sign a cease-and-desist agreement to avoid legal action. The signed document will become public record and could be used as evidence in future court proceedings. Noncompliance or failure to return the letter will result in a review of possible legal alternatives.

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Contact Ted Delisi, Heather Browne, or Tom Kelley at (512) 463-2050