Rep. Meehan Introduces Bill to Ban Internet Sales of Tobacco to Minors

(September 27, 1999) Rep. Meehan introduced the Tobacco Free Internet for Kids Act in the House on September 22. The bill bans the sale of tobacco products to minors over the Internet, and gives states the power to obtain injunctions against violators in federal court.

Related Pages
Summary of HR 2914.
HR 2914 IH.

HR 2914 IH, sponsored by Rep. Martin Meehan (D-MA), would do two things. First, it would criminalize the sale of cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, and other tobacco products over the Internet to anyone under 18. Second, it would allow the states' attorneys general to obtain injunctions in U.S. district court.

The prohibition on sales to minors states: "No person shall make a sale of tobacco products to an individual under the age of 18 using the Internet or the Postal Service or other carrier and no person shall ship in interstate commerce tobacco products which have been so sold."

The provisions pertaining to injunctive relief in federal court borrow liberally from HR 2031 RFS, the Twenty First Amendment Enforcement Act, a bill pertaining to Internet alcohol sales which the House passed on August 3.

Both bills would make it far easier for state prosecutors to obtain injunctions, by allowing them to go to their local federal courts, rather than travel to the state courts where the Internet distributors are located.

Rep. Marty
Meehan
(D-MA)

Rep. Meehan is a former prosecutor who was first elected in 1992. Since then, he has been a leader of the anti-tobacco faction in the House. He is a co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Tobacco and Health. In 1994, he wrote a memorandum alleging possible criminal violations by tobacco companies and their executives.

Last summer he had high school volunteers in his office investigate the availability of cigarettes to minors on the Internet. Rep. Meehan wrote in his web site that "it was incredibly easy for our students to find on-line tobacco sites. Using an ordinary Internet search engine, the young people in my office found 26 on-line tobacco sites. One tobacco company sells on-line directly the maker of Bidis. Only half of the sites have any language regarding age restrictions. All allowed purchases with major credit cards. None displayed the Surgeon General's warning on the dangers of tobacco use." All the volunteers were able to make purchases.

Rep. Meehan explained the purpose of his legislation as follows:

"Nearly all adult smokers started as teenagers. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), smoking among high school students has increased by as much as 50 percent in half the states that have been surveyed since 1991. In Massachusetts, nearly 70 percent of high school students have experimented with cigarettes, and more than 34 percent are regular smokers. That's why my legislation has been endorsed by organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

We must act now to close this insidious loophole and protect our children from these on-line predators, before it's too late. Until we do, every computer with Internet access will be like an un-attended cigarette vending machine, and all of our kids will have unrestricted access to deadly tobacco products."

Comparison of HR 2031 and HR 2914
Excerpt from HR 2031 RFS
(Alcohol Sales)
Excerpt from HR 2914 IH
(Tobacco Sales)
(b) ACTION BY STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL- If the attorney general has reasonable cause to believe that a person is engaged in, or has engaged in, any act that would constitute a violation of a State law regulating the importation or transportation of any intoxicating liquor, the attorney general may bring a civil action in accordance with this section for injunctive relief (including a preliminary or permanent injunction or other order) against the person, as the attorney general determines to be necessary to--

    (1) restrain the person from engaging, or continuing to engage, in the violation; and

    (2) enforce compliance with the State law.

(c) FEDERAL JURISDICTION-

    (1) IN GENERAL- The district courts of the United States shall have jurisdiction over any action brought under this section by an attorney general against any person, except one licensed or otherwise authorized to produce, sell, or store intoxicating liquor in such State.

    (2) VENUE- An action under this section may be brought only in accordance with section 1391 of title 28, United States Code, or in the district in which the recipient of the intoxicating liquor resides or is found.

(b) ACTION BY STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL- If the attorney general has reasonable cause to believe that a person is engaged in, or has engaged in, any act involving the sale or shipment of tobacco products that would constitute a violation of section 2, the attorney general may bring a civil action in accordance with this section for injunctive relief (including a preliminary or permanent injunction or other order) against the person, as the attorney general determines to be necessary to restrain the person from engaging, or continuing to engage, in the violation.

(c) FEDERAL JURISDICTION-

    (1) IN GENERAL- The district courts of the United States shall have jurisdiction over any action brought under this section by an attorney general against any person under subsection (b).

    (2) VENUE- An action under this section may be brought only in accordance with section 1391 of title 28, United States Code, or in the district in which the recipient of the tobacco products resides or is found.