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For Immediate Release
March 17, 2005
Media Contact:
Kevin Enright 410-576-6357

ATTORNEY GENERAL CURRAN AND ATF ANNOUNCE JOINT INITIATIVE WITH CREDIT CARD COMPANIES TO PREVENT ILLEGAL CIGARETTE SALES OVER THE INTERNET


Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran today announced a joint public/private initiative to prevent the illegal sale of cigarettes over the Internet. Participants in the initiative include Attorneys General from across the country, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and credit card companies. “Illegal cigarette sales over the internet are difficult to stop, “ said Attorney General Curran. “In addition to government intervention, we need private industries to help as well, and that is what is happening now.”

" Today, public and private partnerships are the key to success for law enforcement. ATF investigations show that millions of dollars each year in illegal sales of cigarettes are diverted to fund terrorists and criminal organizations," said Michael Bouchard, ATF Assistant Director for Field Operations. "ATF will aggressively continue to pursue violations of law. However, through today's initiative, we are addressing the problem of illegal sales across multiple jurisdictions with tremendous support from the country's largest credit card companies. We welcome the help."

Maryland law prohibits the sale of cigarettes over the Internet to consumers in Maryland. In addition to being illegal, Internet cigarette sales present a significant risk to public health. Cigarettes sold on the Internet are much cheaper than cigarettes sold by brick-and-mortar retailers because the Internet sellers falsely advertise that their cigarettes are tax-free. Lower cigarette prices lead to increased smoking rates, which in turn lead to more smoking-related illnesses and deaths.

Moreover as the Attorney General explained, while brick-and-mortar retailers check photo IDs to prevent children from buying cigarettes, the vast majority of Internet sellers have age verification systems that are inadequate, often simply requiring the purchaser to click a button stating that he or she is over 18 years old. Numerous studies have shown that the earlier an individual begins to smoke, the more likely it is that the person will become addicted to smoking. Thus, age verification through photo IDs is essential to protect children from a lifetime of addiction and smoking-related illnesses.

All credit card companies have long-standing policies that prohibit the use of their credit card for illegal transactions. During a meeting held today in Washington DC, the state and federal authorities outlined the many laws that are being violated, and the companies agreed to take a variety of steps to ensure that their services are not used to facilitate these illegal transactions.

Among the many actions some of the credit card companies have taken to stop illegal online sales are: (1) adopting policies to prohibit the use of credit cards for the illegal sale of cigarettes over the Internet; and (2) agreeing to investigate and take action with respect to any Internet sellers identified by law enforcement as accepting their credit cards for illegal online cigarette sales.


 

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