Everyone benefits from new tobacco law, Sorrell says

By John O'Brien | Jun 30, 2008

MONTPELIER, Vt. (Legal Newsline) - A new law that will ban the sale of tobacco products over the Internet or phone is "win-win-win," Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said Monday.

Sorrell said children will be protected, tax revenue will be earned and state retailers will be supported when the legislation takes affect Tuesday.

The law makes non-face-to-face sales of tobacco products illegal. Sorrell said the measure was prompted by Internet vendors that have inadequate or no systems for verifying the age of a buyer, and that also do not pay cigarette and tobacco taxes.

Their lower prices cut into the legitimate business of local retailers, he said.

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Maine law defended by state Attorney General Steven Rowe that attempted to regulate part of the cigarettes-by-mail industry.

The law required truckers delivering cigarettes sold over the Internet or by mail to check the IDs of their recipients. Thirty-one other states supported the law.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has kept up with his New England colleagues. In April, he testified before a Congressional committee that the U.S. Post Office should not be allowed to deliver tobacco products.

"We cannot permit the United States Postal Service -- an arm of the government -- to deliver death and addiction to children," he said. "Laws enabling it should be ended."

State attorneys general and tobacco companies have long been at each other's throats. In 1998, the two sides reached the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which required a yearly payment from companies that wanted to continue selling to the 52 participating states and territories.

The settlement had an estimated worth of $246 billion.

One of the architects of the settlement was Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, hired by then-Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore to represent Mississippi in the case. Scruggs was sentenced to five years in prison Friday for bribing a state judge.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at john@legalnewsline.com.

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