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

June 12, 2001 Media Inquiries: Sean Caine 410-576-6357

AG Says Retailers and Manufacturers Must Both Comply with the Law

Baltimore - Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr., today announced the result of a sting operation performed by his office to determine the rate at which children under 18 can purchase cigarettes. A shocking 62 percent of the purchase attempts by the minors resulted in the illegal sale of cigarettes. The 42 purchase attempts were made in Baltimore County, Baltimore City and Prince Georgeís County and were the first step in the Attorney Generalís Program to Reduce Youth Access to Tobacco. Often the sale was made with no request that the minor produce identification; others were made even after the minor produced authentic identification, revealing a true age under 18.

"Our sting has demonstrated just how easily children can buy cigarettes in Maryland," the Attorney General stated. "In many cases, it was just as easy for these minors to buy cigarettes as it was for them to buy candy. There is no way this should be the case. Just as we held the tobacco manufacturers responsible for marketing their products to kids, we must hold local retailers accountable for violating the law by selling cigarettes to our children."

The comprehensive Settlement Agreement resulting from the 1996 lawsuit against big tobacco prohibits manufacturers from targeting youth in advertising, promotion or marketing of tobacco products. The Attorney Generalís sting was designed to measure what effect, if any, those prohibitions have had on youth access to tobacco. The Attorney General is not happy with the results. "It is clear that retailers are continuing to sell cigarettes to kids at an alarming rate. We have dealt with the manufacturers, now we need to bring these offending retailers into compliance with the law," the Attorney General explained.

The 62 percent sales rate yielded by Attorney General Curranís sting, combined with national study findings that 19,000 Maryland kids become new daily smokers each year, supports the widely held belief that youth smoking is a public health crisis. Studies show that the younger a person is when beginning to smoke, the more likely that person will become a lifelong smoker, unwilling or unable to quit despite the serious health risks associated with smoking.

The Attorney General has sent letters to the violating retailers, warning them to come into compliance with the law or risk civil and criminal penalties. Letters were also sent to the retailers who did not sell cigarettes to the minors, thanking them and asking them to get on board with the Attorney Generalís effort to reduce youth access to tobacco.

"Working with other state agencies and local authorities, we hope to reduce youth access to cigarettes," the Attorney General said, also noting that the first step in that effort is to encourage and support local health officials and prosecutors in designing an enforcement program consisting of underage purchase attempts and prosecutions for violators. Programs in other states, as well as in Montgomery County, demonstrate that youth sales will diminish in response to a comprehensive enforcement effort at the state or local level. The Attorney General also intends to work with tobacco retailers who want to adopt policies and practices designed to reduce youth sales. The widespread distribution of a brochure his Office has created that offers retailers advice and guidelines for compliance with the law, is one way Attorney General Curran plans to achieve a lower sales rate.

"Wise retailers will get on board with our effort; those who do not will be identified and pursued until they understand the importance of stopping youth sales. Whether itís 65 percent or five percent, we will continue to hammer home this message and will only be satisfied when Maryland has a sales rate to minors of zero percent."