Office of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr.

November 17, 2000 Media Inquiries: Sean Caine 410-576-6357


Baltimore - Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. today alerted parents to the fact that children and teens may be able to obtain tobacco, alcohol or other items usually off-limits to minors through the Internet. He offered this warning as he announced that his Consumer Protection Division has succeeded in getting three companies to stop selling cigarettes over the Internet without verifying the age of purchasers.

"We stopped three companies who were not complying with the law forbidding the sale of cigarettes to minors," Curran said. "But I urge parents to monitor their childrenís Internet use, and to be aware that there are probably other websites that are putting harmful products within reach of minors."

Curranís office sent "cease and desist" letters to three retailers that were selling "bidi" cigarettes on their websites as part of a "sting" operation. The flavored, hand-wrapped cigarettes from India have become popular among young people, and the sellers had no way to verify that people purchasing the bidis were 18 years of age or older. The three retailers are The Tobacco Shop, Inc., of Indianapolis, Ind.; Ziggyís Tobacco & Novelty of Worcester, Mass.; and Durango Smoke Shop, of Durango, Colo. Staff from the Consumer Protection Division visited the websites and were able to order bidis without having to verify that they were over 18 years of age. Purchasers could either use a credit card or send a check or money order. Additionally, two of the websites had no notices at all that persons must be at least 18 years old to purchase tobacco products; one website had such a notice on its home page but not on the order pages. None of the sites had any way to actually verify the age of purchasers.

The letters pointed out that by selling cigarettes to a Maryland resident without verification of age, the retailers were violating Maryland law. All of the retailers agreed to stop selling bidis over the Internet.

"You may think that children canít order these products if they donít have a credit card," Curran said. "But in fact children may obtain a parentís credit card number, or may purchase a money order to buy something over the Internet. We require traditional merchants to verify age face-to-face, and currently Internet merchants have no comparable means of verifying age."