The Boston Herald
Aug 25, 1999
By Darrell S. Pressley
A new survey using Bay State high school students shows how
easy it is for minors to buy cigarettes and other tobacco items
off the Internet.
The Online Tobacco Sales to Minors Survey found students
under 18 were able to buy tobacco products from Marlboro
Lights to Bidis by the carton without being asked their age.
"I thought it was very scary, because little kids can do it," said
Kelly Sheehan, 17, a senior at Salem High School.
With the help of the high school students volunteering in his
office, U.S. Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Lowell) yesterday
introduced national legislation to attack the online problem.
The Protecting Kids From Internet Tobacco Sales Act gives
state attorneys general the power to prosecute people and
companies that sell tobacco products over the Internet to those
Using credit cards, the minors were able to buy cigarettes and
have them delivered to their homes, despite laws that prohibit
the sale of tobacco to anyone under 18.
Sheehan said she ordered cigarettes online for the study and
they came back in about six weeks in brown wrapping -- which
means parents may not even know their kids have ordered
Sheehan said she knows of one friend who bought cigarettes
from the Web. "He was laughing because he couldn't believe
he could do it," she said.
The study also found:
- 26 sites of stores where cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and
snuff are sold over the Internet.
- Of those sites, only half listed age restrictions, and none of
them had the Surgeon General's warning labels.
- At no time were the minors buying the products asked to provide
proof of their age.
"We must act now to protect our children from these online
predators before it's too late," said Meehan, who plans to
introduce the legislation when Congress returns in September.
"Until we do, every computer with Internet access will be like an
unattended cigarette vending machine," he said.
Anti-tobacco activists supported Meehan's proposal.
"We think the proposal will serve as a gatekeeper for an
industry that knows no boundaries and continues to
shamelessly market to kids," said Lori Fresina, a
spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society.
But Jeff Borysiewicz, president of Corona Cigars, based in
Orlando, Fla., said the industry doesn't want to sell to minors
and it "does a real good job of policing itself."
Borysiewicz said his site includes, among other things, a
warning telling customers they must be 18 or over, a
"Keeping Cigars Away from Kids" logo, and a request for an
age. He also requires that the mailing address given match the
credit card address.
According to a Center for Disease Control report, nearly 70
percent of high school students in the Bay State have
experimented with cigarettes, and more than 34 percent are
regular smokers. And the number of high school smokers is
on the rise nationally.
Proposed Legislation To Crack Down On Internet Tobacco Sales To Minors
U.S. Representative Marty Meehan (D-MA) announced that he intends
to introduce legislation to stop tobacco sales to minors over
the Internet when Congress reconvenes next month. The
legislation would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to
minors, require online tobacco marketers to comply with the same
restrictions that apply to print advertisers, and mandate that
web sites selling tobacco display the Surgeon General's
warning. At a press conference announcing his bill, Meehan
said, "Access to cigarettes thorough sources like the Internet
is helping to fuel the increase in youth smoking that's taking
place in the 90's. The more that we can restrict kids from
easy access to tobacco, the less likely the children will be
Over the summer, Meehan conducted an informal study of Internet
tobacco sales using student interns to search the web for sites
that sell tobacco. His interns found 26 web sites selling
tobacco, and only half of them had language regarding age
requirements for purchasing tobacco products. None of the sites
posted the Surgeon General's warning about smoking.
The Boston Herald, (8/24/99) "Meehan, AG Reilly take steps to zap
online tobacco sales", State House News Service
TOBACCO ON THE INTERNET-- Massachusetts Congressman Marty Meehan has
announced he will file legislation to address Internet tobacco sales to
minors. After a constituent called to complain about the sale of cigarettes
to kids over the Internet, Meehan asked high school students working for him
to investigate. The students found 26 Internet sites selling tobacco, only
half of which contained language regarding age requirements for purchasing
tobacco. The students demonstrated how easy it was to purchase tobacco over
the Internet at the press conference announcing the legislation.
As cigarette marketers are constrained from more traditional forms of
advertising, promotions and sales, they will be looking harder for
alternative mechanisms. In March 1997, the Center for Media Education
published a study entitled "Alcohol and Tobacco on the Web: New Threats to
Youth." The report noted that both alcohol and tobacco companies use the web
to advertise and promote their products. In many cases, the companies
exploit the web's unique interactive properties that young people find so
attractive. The report notes that hundreds of sites offer alcohol and
tobacco products for sale, and even if sellers ask a buyer their age, there
is no mechanism for verifying the answer.
Advocates need to be vigilant in monitoring the industry's new tactics. It
is noteworthy that a constituent's call spurred Congressman Meehan's
interest in the issue. More such interested constituents can help us make
Note: "Alcohol and Tobacco on the Web: New Threats to Youth" is available
from the Center for Media Education, 2120 L St. NW, Suite 200, Washington DC
20037. Phone: 202-331-7833; Fax: 202-331-7841; or on the World Wide Web at