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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Coalition to Stop Contraband Tobacco -- a group made up of several trade associations, public officials and a unit of a major tobacco company, among others -- gathered on Capitol Hill yesterday to urge the Senate to pass S. 1147, the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act of 2009.
If passed, the legislation will help combat online sales of untaxed cigarette and smokeless tobacco products, and help prevent youth access to tobacco. It closes gaps in current federal laws regulating "remote" or "delivery" sales of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, according to the organization. The PACT Act was passed in the House in May, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to discuss the bill today.
Some trade association members of the Coalition to Stop Contraband Tobacco include NACS, AWMA, FMI, NATO, NATSO, PMAA and SIGMA. Altria Client Services, a division of Altria Group, is also a member of the coalition on behalf of Philip Morris USA and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co.
"At the very time when states have undertaken extraordinary efforts to restrict minors' access to cigarettes and continue to increase cigarette excise taxes, the Internet still offers minors a virtually risk-free and attractively priced means to easily obtain them," Hank Armour, president and CEO of NACS, said in a statement. "The PACT Act addresses long-standing concerns that law-abiding neighborhood convenience stores have with respect to tax evasion and underage sales."
In a separate press release, NATO President Andrew Kerstein, a tobacco retailer in New Jersey, said: "This bill is important not only to keep cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products out of the hands of minors, but also to ensure a level playing field for all tobacco retailers."
The group was joined by Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, two advocates of combating illegal cigarette sales.
"The PACT Act will strengthen our tobacco laws to ensure that law enforcement has the tools they need to investigate and prosecute cigarette traffickers," Kohl said in a statement. "Each day we delay its passage, terrorists and criminals raise more money, states lose significant amounts of tax revenue, and kids have easy access to tobacco products sold over the Internet."
During the conference, AWMA released its latest findings from a study on the prevalence of illegal Internet cigarette sales and the cost to the country. The cost to states in illegal cigarette sales could be upwards of $5 billion per year, and there is almost no age verification at the time of purchasing the tobacco products online, according to the study.
"The problem of illegal sales of cigarettes has gotten worse," Scott Ramminger, AWMA president and CEO, said in a statement. "This study is a clear indication that the PACT Act must be passed immediately so we can effectively combat illegal Internet sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products."
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