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No Ifs, Ands Or Butts

No Ifs, Ands Or ButtsTufts graduate Matthew Myers is leading a national fight to close the Internet loopholes that enable kids to buy cigarettes. Washington, D.C.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.08.03] Following the dramatic increase over the last several years in the number of websites that sell cigarettes to anyone with a computer, regardless of their age, the Internet has quickly become the newest battleground in the war against underage smoking. New laws - with tough penalties -- are needed to keep kids from buying cigarettes, says Matthew Myers, a Tufts graduate at the forefront of the national fight to keep kids tobacco free.

"We need to make sure that the criminal penalties are real and that they can be enforced both by federal and state officials," Myers - the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids - told a Congressional panel considering legislation to regulate online tobacco sales. "If we do those things [in new legislation, we] can have a significant public health impact on our children and can help states prevent the continued hemorrhage of the illegal sale of tobacco products."

At the heart of efforts to curb the sale of cigarettes to kids over the Internet are two major components: strong age-verification requirements and new laws to require online sellers to charge taxes on the tobacco products they sell.

"By failing to do adequate age verification, the sharply growing number of websites selling tobacco products make it easier and cheaper for kids to buy cigarettes," reported Myers' organization in a report on the issue. "[Internet sales] also offer smokers a way to avoid paying state tobacco and sales taxes, thereby keeping cigarette prices down and smoking levels up."

Congress is considering several proposals for new legislation aimed at regulating Internet tobacco sales, and Myers is working to make sure any new laws have teeth.

"The enforcement provisions have to be adequate, otherwise state officials won't have the incentives to do so," Myers told Congress during his testimony in early May. "What that means is significant enough minimum penalties, just as retailers face, so that people will have an incentive both to obey the law and the law enforcement officials will have the incentive to enforce the law."

The 1969 Tufts graduate is no stranger to the fight against tobacco companies.

Throughout his career - first as an attorney and later as a tobacco-control advocate -Myers has recorded a series of high profile victories in what was later dubbed "the tobacco wars."

"As a private lawyer in the eighties, he lobbied Congress and won a doubling of the per pack cigarette tax," reported PBS' Frontline. "While Myers was working at the FTC on warning labels, he enlisted the support of then-Congressman Al Gore, and it was this connection that made Myers a central player in the [tobacco] settlement debate."

His work earned him national recognition and several major awards, including the Surgeon General's Medal for his contributions to the nation's public health.

As the leader of the "Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids," Myers now focuses his attention on the 4,000 children who try smoking for the first time each day. According to Myers and his colleagues, more than half of them will become regular smokers, of which a third will die prematurely due to the health effects of smoking.

"The ultimate goal really has got to be focused on what we can do to change how tobacco is marketed and sold in this country," Myers told Frontline. "And do it in a way that meets basic principles with moral and social justice."

 

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