Lockyer Files Suit Against Safeway for Tobacco Sales to Minors
Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) on Wednesday filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging that Safeway grocery stores sold tobacco to California minors "on numerous occasions" and did not take "adequate precautions" to prevent future sales despite state warnings, the Sacramento Bee reports (Kasler, Sacramento Bee, 6/17). The lawsuit cites 48 incidences in 158 undercover investigations between July 2000 and May 2004 in which the supermarket chain allegedly sold tobacco products to underage buyers. Some of the stores investigated were also cited for not displaying warning signs or tobacco sales permits (Sciaudone, Los Angeles Times, 6/17). The lawsuit, filed jointly with Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, charges that Safeway stores sold tobacco to underage customers 30% of the time this year through March and 42.1% of the time in 2003. Safeway's sales-to-minors rate allegedly is the highest among the state's major grocery chains -- including Ralphs, Albertsons and Raley's -- that were inspected, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports (Almond, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 6/17).
The state could lose federal funding for drug and alcohol treatment programs if minors are able to purchase tobacco more than 20% of the time, the Bee reports. Last year, the state's rate of tobacco sales to minors was 12.2%, according to the Department of Health Services. The suit seeks a $2,500 fine for each violation, which could total several hundred thousand dollars, according to Lockyer's office. Lockyer also is seeking an injunction to force the company to take further actions to curb the sale of tobacco to minors (Sacramento Bee, 6/17).
Edward Sweda, senior attorney with the Massachusetts-based Tobacco Products Liability Project, which promotes suits against the industry, said Safeway may be pressured to settle the suit to avoid a court fight, the Times reports. Safeway spokesperson David Bowlby said, "We believe our record of compliance regarding tobacco sales does not justify being singled out in this instance. We invest a great deal of time and resources to ensure our employees are well-trained and understand how seriously we take our responsibility in this matter" (Los Angeles Times, 6/17). Lockyer spokesperson Tom Dresslar said, "We're not picking on Safeway in any way, shape or form." Dresslar added, "The main point ... is to ensure that Safeway engages in responsible corporate conduct" (Sacramento Bee, 6/17).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.