OLYMPIA - December 21, 1999 - Attorney General Christine Gregoire and the Washington State Liquor Control Board today announced several Internet tobacco merchants are getting a cease and desist order for selling "bidis" to children ranging from age 12 to 17. The buys were part of a multi-state sting operation by 17 state attorneys general offices.
Bidis are hand-rolled cigarettes primarily made in India. They are an even greater health risk than traditional cigarettes and come in flavors attractive to children.
"Washington state has a zero tolerance for selling tobacco to minors," said Gregoire. "We will not stand for tobacco being sold to children whether it comes from a local retailer or over the Internet."
The Washington State Liquor Control Board sent the order today to five tobacco merchants warning them that if they continued selling to minors they would face prosecution for violations of Washington state tobacco laws.
In addition to the Liquor Board's cease and desist order, Attorney General Gregoire today issued a letter to the five firms demanding that they stop selling bidis to all residents of Washington, adults as well as minors.
In the letter, Gregoire said her office together with the Liquor Board continues to contemplate additional action against the firms for possible violation of numerous state and federal laws, including the Consumer Protection Act and federal labeling requirements. Gregoire concluded the letter by demanding that the firms avoid additional violations by ceasing to sell bidis in Washington altogether.
Because state tobacco laws are not uniform, individual states are pursuing a variety of actions ranging from warnings to cease and desist orders, which can be enforced through state statutes.
Washington’s Internet sting operations were conducted by two children using undercover names and credit cards provided by the attorney general’s office. They made five separate purchases between $30 and $60 from five Internet Vendors. Youth conducting the stings were able to purchase bidis in every instance and in most cases were not asked their age.
The five merchants are: Ziggy’s Tobacco and Novelty of Massachusetts, Durango Smoke Shop of Colorado, The Tobacco Shop of Indiana, Uptown Cigar Co. of New York, and Calabash Habana Cigar Café’ of Maine.
Gregoire noted that bidis produced for the American market, unlike those made for Indian consumption, are flavored to taste like strawberry, chocolate, grape and other flavors attractive to minors.
Bidis are puffed more frequently than regular cigarettes to prevent them from going out. Consequently, bidi smokers breathe in greater quantities of tar and other toxins than smokers of regular cigarettes. In addition, bidis contain more than three times the amount of nicotine and more than five times the amount of tar than regular cigarette smoke.
Studies have found that bidi smokers have two times the risk of lung cancer than those who smoke Indian filtered cigarettes, have five times the risk of suffering heart disease as non-smokers, and are more at risk for cancers of the throat, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, lungs, esophagus, stomach, and liver than regular smokers.
Bidis are readily available at smoke shops, gas stations, ethnic food stores, and selected health stores.
Click here for an electronic copy of the cease and desist order .