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    Massachusetts Files Suit Against Internet Retailers

    Lawsuits, one settlement part of lengthy undercover investigation of cigarette dealers.

    BOSTON -- Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly has filed lawsuits against three out-of-state online cigarette dealers accused of selling cigarettes to Massachusetts teenagers without first verifying that they were 18 years old -- the legal age to purchase cigarettes.

    The three lawsuits stem from an undercover investigation into online cigarette sales spearheaded by Reilly's Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division. The lawsuits allege that the three cigarette dealers sold to minors, failed to verify the age of their online customers, and failed to disclose to consumers the consequences of purchasing cigarettes that do not bear the Massachusetts excise stamp.

    "Regardless of whether you are selling cigarettes in cyberspace or at the corner store, the rules don't change," Reilly said. "It's against the law to sell cigarettes to anyone who is under the age of 18 and it is up to all retailers to check the age of their customers."

    In addition to filing the lawsuits, Reilly also filed a settlement with a fourth online cigarette retailer. The three Internet sellers named today in lawsuits are: www.dirtcheapcig.com, Inc., of Paducah, Ky., which operates as www.dirtcheapcig.com, eSmokes Inc., of Reston, Va., which operates as www.esmokes.com, and S4L Distributing Inc., of Big Stone Gap, Va., which operates as www.smokin4less.com.

    A fourth retailer, Broadway Smoke Shop of Salem, N.H., which operated a Web site at www.bwaysmoke.com, has agreed to pay $3,000 to the Attorney General's Local Consumer Aid Fund to resolve allegations that it sold cigarettes to minors, failed to verify the age of consumers purchasing cigarettes and used misleading and deceptive advertisements to lure consumers to the company's Web site.

    Also under the terms of the settlement, the smoke shop must comply with underage sales restrictions, as outlined in Massachusetts law, and provide specific disclosures to consumers explaining their obligations and potential liabilities when buying cigarettes that do not bear the Massachusetts excise stamp.

    As part of the undercover investigation, Reilly's office enlisted the help of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17, who, with the consent of their parents, bought cigarettes from each of the four Internet retailers named in today's court filings. None of the online dealers required the teens to provide a driver's license or another type of age verification at the time of order or delivery.

    Massachusetts law prohibits the sale of cigarettes to persons under 18 years of age, and the attorney general's consumer protection regulations require brick-and-mortar retailers to verify the age of the purchaser by checking a valid, government-issued photo identification unless the purchaser appears to be at least 27 years of age. Internet and other mail-order sales are prohibited unless the seller verifies that the purchaser is an adult, at least by obtaining a legible photocopy of a valid government-issued identification.

    Massachusetts tax law prohibits the possession of cigarettes unless the pack is stamped with the Massachusetts excise stamp. Massachusetts residents who buy cigarette packs without a Massachusetts excise stamp are responsible for the outstanding excise plus any applicable penalties and interest. The possession or transportation of unstamped cigarettes also is subject to additional civil and criminal penalties. The Massachusetts cigarette excise tax is $15.10 for a standard 10-pack carton or $1.51 for each individual pack.

    The federal Jenkins Act requires out-of-state cigarette dealers to register with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) and report the names and addresses of the consumers they sell to on a monthly basis. The DOR also uses other sources of information to identify consumers who buy cigarettes from Internet retailers.

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