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LOS ANGELES - California Attorney General Bill Lockyer yesterday sued Safeway for allegedly selling cigarettes to minors and failing to take adequate steps to prevent further sales at its stores.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeks civil penalties that could total hundreds of thousands of dollars. The complaint asks the court to issue an injunction that would require the Safeway, Inc. stores, which include Vons, Pavilions, and Pak N' Save, to take actions to curb tobacco-related sales to minors.
The lawsuit against Safeway alleges the grocery chain violated the state penal code's prohibition against selling cigarettes to people under 18 on numerous occasions. Stores failed to I.D. people who appeared underage and bought tobacco products, and also neglected to post signs warning against underage sales, the lawsuit said.
Safeway's Los Angeles stores, operating under the Vons banner, failed to display tobacco retail permits, as required by city ordinance, the lawsuit alleges.
Undercover inspections by state health officials showed that, through March 2004, Safeway stores sold tobacco products to minors in nearly 30 percent of the cases. In 2003 the violation rate was even higher, at 42.1 percent, according to state officials.
In a statement, Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway said it "takes the allegations of the complaint brought by the Attorney General's office very seriously and intends to address them in detail. Safeway has been and continues to be committed to keeping cigarettes and tobacco products out of the hands of children and underage customers.
"The employees who staff our stores are committed to the communities they serve and work very hard to comply with all state and local laws prohibiting underage tobacco sales. This commitment has been a source of pride for our company for more than 70 years. Unfortunately, without more information regarding the allegations outlined in Mr. Lockyer's lawsuit, we are unable to provide a more detailed response at this time.
"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.
"We will work with Mr. Lockyer's office to address and resolve any legitimate concerns his office may have."