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California Attorney General Announces Settlement with Postal Service to Prevent Transport and Delivery of Illicit Cigarettes

August 1, 2022

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OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced a settlement with the United States Postal Service (USPS) to prevent the delivery of illegal cigarettes to residents of California. The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by California and New York City, and later joined by Illinois, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, alleging that USPS knowingly accepted and transmitted packages through domestic mail that it had reasonable cause to believe contained cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, in violation of the non-mailability provision of the Prevent All Cigarettes Trafficking (PACT) Act. Today’s settlement includes a number of provisions that will enhance USPS’ ability to identify and remove illicit cigarette packages from the mail stream.

“For too long, the Postal Service has allowed international smugglers to evade the law and send contraband cigarettes into California,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Today’s settlement will finally make these packages undeliverable through new policies to identify and prevent the delivery of these harmful products.”

Smoking is the number one preventable killer in the United States, resulting in more deaths than the number of people who die from alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murder, and suicides — combined. The PACT Act was established to reduce youth smoking, curtail the flow of tax-evading contraband cigarettes, create strong disincentives to illegal smuggling of tobacco products, and provide government officials with more effective tools to combat tobacco smuggling.

The California Department of Justice, alongside state and local officials, consistently reported to USPS that cigarettes enter domestic mail through the international mail stream. In the complaint, the California Department of Justice and other plaintiffs allege that USPS was aware of these illicit deliveries and failed to stop them in violation of the PACT Act.

As part of today’s settlement, USPS will adopt a number of measures to ensure the transport and delivery of illicit cigarettes are prevented in the future, including:

  • Improving training for its workforce: USPS will develop training to help employees identify and remove illicit cigarettes from the U.S. mail stream.
  • Ending its “return to sender” program: USPS will abandon its previous “return to sender” policy, which allowed illicit cigarette packages to be delivered or returned to the original sender to be re-mailed at a later date.
  • Engaging in cooperative information sharing: USPS will engage in cooperative information sharing and compliance planning with the states and New York City to assist in investigations and remove illicit cigarettes from the U.S. mail stream.

A copy of the settlement, which is subject to court approval, is available here.

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