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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer and the Attorneys General of four other states today announced an agreement under which BP West Coast Products (BP) will implement new policies and procedures to reduce tobacco sales to minors at ARCO gas stations and convenience stores, including all 1,250 in California.
"Many companies talk about how they want to reduce tobacco sales to minors,' said Lockyer. 'BP has backed up its words with action by making a commitment to protect the health of its young customers.'
The ARCO 'Assurance of Voluntary Compliance' is the fourth agreement produced by an ongoing, multi-state enforcement effort. Lockyer and other attorneys general previously reached agreements that apply to all Walgreens stores, and to all gas stations operating under the Exxon, Mobil, BP, and Amoco brand names.
The enforcement program focuses on retailers who have high rates of tobacco sales to minors, which are prohibited by California law. The goal is to secure the retailers' agreement to adopt policies to prevent youth access to cigarettes and other tobacco products. While ownership of ARCO retail outlets has changed over recent years, enforcement inspections consistently have found a high non-compliance rate at ARCO gas stations and stores. BP, one of the nation's largest oil companies, purchased ARCO in 1999.
At all ARCO outlets owned and operated by BP, the agreement requires BP to:
Prohibit self-service displays of cigarettes, and the use of vending machines to sell tobacco products.
Prohibit the sale of smoking paraphernalia to minors.
Check the identification of any person purchasing tobacco products when the person appears to be under age 35.
Hire an independent entity to conduct annual, random compliance checks of 50 percent of the outlets.
Transition to cash registers programmed to prompt ID checks on tobacco sales.
Train employees on state laws and company policies regarding tobacco sales to minors.
The agreement also encourages ARCO outlets that are owned or operated by third parties to comply with state laws governing sales to minors. For example, BP will notify franchisees and other third-party owners that violation of state laws could constitute grounds for termination of their right to operate the outlet under the ARCO brand name.
Additionally, BP in future contracts with franchisees and other third-party owners, must require compliance with state laws and specify that non-compliance constitutes grounds for termination or non-renewal of the contract. BP also must offer third-party owner/operators the opportunity to participate in its compliance inspection ('mystery shopper') program.
Youth access to tobacco products ranks among the most serious public health problems. Nationwide, an estimated 690 million packs of cigarettes are sold to minors each year. Studies show that more than 80 percent of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18. Research indicates that every day in the United States more than 2,000 people under the age of 18 begin smoking. Of those 2,000 people, about 660 ultimately will die from a tobacco-related disease. Particularly relevant to the ARCO agreement, studies show that of all minors who report buying cigarettes, 47 percent identify gas stations as their primary point of purchase.
In 1999, Lockyer established a full-time Tobacco Litigation and Enforcement Section to enforce California laws regarding the sale and marketing of tobacco products. The section also enforces the national Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached with tobacco companies in November 1998.
Californians who suspect violations of state tobacco laws or the MSA can file complaints by calling 916-565-6486 at any time, or by writing to the Tobacco Litigation and Enforcement Section at P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550. Additional information is available on the Attorney General's web site at http://www.ag.ca.gov/tobacco/ .