5 online cigarette retailers sued

"California Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed lawsuits against five out-of-state online cigarette retailers Tuesday, alleging they are selling to California minors and avoiding responsibilities to pay California sales taxes. Lockyer said the growing Internet tobacco retailers "have helped hook our children on a deadly addictive product" while depriving the state of revenue "it can ill afford to lose" during a budget crisis.

While California smokers pay as much as $58 per 10-pack carton in grocery stores, online sales firms are marketing brands between $8.99 and $32.49 per carton. Online cigarette sales -- estimated this year at $2.2 billion -- are expected to reach $5 billion by 2005 and cost states $1.4 billion in lost sales taxes, according to Massachusetts-based Forrester Research, which tracks online marketing. State tax authorities estimate California's losses are nearly $55 million this year as the state's budget falls $26 billion to $35 billion short during the next 15 months.

Government officials in Washington and Oregon filed similar lawsuits Tuesday, a Lockyer spokesman said. Lockyer's suit, filed in San Diego Superior Court, targets Missouri-based Dirt Cheap Cigarettes Inc., Smokin 4 Less of Virginia, Cyco.net Inc. of New Mexico, eSmokes of Florida and LLP Enterprises/CigOutlet of Virginia. They are among an estimated 167 online retailers, according to state tax officials. Cyco.net, LLP Enterprises, and Smokin 4 Less did not immediately respond to messages requesting comment. There was no answer to a call to eSmokes on Tuesday afternoon. At Dirt Cheap Cigarettes a customer service representative who did not give her name said the company had no comment.

Dresslar said the attorney general's office ran a "sting" on the companies, in which children under 18 used their parents credit cards to order cigarettes. "We determined they could," said Dresslar. "It was pretty easy to do."

Although this does rest on the fact that you get daddies CC to buy the things... better parenting needed all round :)

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