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Okla. questions tobacco promotion

Email|Print| Text size + By Ron Jenkins
Associated Press Writer / February 19, 2008

OKLAHOMA CITY—A Lawton senator wants to crack down on the screening of young smokers' driver's licenses as part of marketing efforts by tobacco companies.

Sen. Randy Bass, D-Lawton, raised concerns Monday that identities of young smokers could be put at risk.

Bass is sponsoring a bill to make it a misdemeanor to scan driver's licenses and to store or sell the data collected. The measure is pending in the Senate Appropriations Committee after getting favorable action in a subcommittee.

Tobacco companies, according to Bass, have been sending representatives to bars that cater to college students, offering the students incentives to use their products.

During the process, he said, scanners are being used to check driver's licenses to make sure the students are old enough to purchase tobacco. He said hand-held readers capture all the data on the licenses, including name, age and address.

"First of all, there is the very real concern about personal privacy and whether this data could be used to commit identity theft," Bass said.

He said people also need to know "how aggressively the tobacco companies are working to hook our young people on tobacco. They're spending $245.8 million a year in Oklahoma alone to get people addicted."

Another way some companies are collecting data is to have convenience store operators scan driver's licenses after offering people a special deal on cigarette purchases, Bass said.

He said people who have their licenses scanned may not realize their information is being collected until they start receiving enticing marketing packages from tobacco companies.

Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Philip Morris in Richard, Va., said his company does not "sign people up on our database when they are purchasing products in stores."

Phelps said the company has in the past sent people to bars as part of its marketing effort, but said information collected through ID scans is kept confidential.

"We don't make that information available to anyone else. We don't sell it or anything else," he said.

Phelps had no comment on Bass' bill.

A lobbyist for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. did not return telephone calls for comment by late Monday afternoon.

R.J. Renolds, is an indirect subsidiary of Reynolds American Inc., the second largest tobacco company in the United States.

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