FDA Targets Walgreens, 14 Other Retailers for Selling Tobacco to Minors

FDA Targets Walgreens, 14 Other Retailers for Selling Tobacco to Minors
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Walmart and 13 other retailers, including several gas station chains, are under fire for selling tobacco products to minors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says Walgreens sells more tobacco products to minors than any other pharmacy chain. [1]

Over the past 10 years, more than 1 million ‘undercover checks’ revealed high rates of sales to youth. The agency said March 4 that it is considering “enforcement avenues to address high rates of violations.”

The FDA sent letters to 40 companies that may be illegally marketing certain tobacco products or e-cigarettes to young people. The move comes after e-cigarettes were implicated in increasing the rates of cigarette smoking among teens. E-cigarettes are touted as a smoking cessation method for adults, but they appear to be leading to nicotine addiction among youth.

Walgreens is squarely in the FDA’s crosshairs because the pharmacy chain has a “disturbing” record of illegal sales to minors “since the company positions itself as a health-and-wellness-minded business.” The agency’s probe revealed that 22% of the more than 6,350 Walgreens locations across the country sold tobacco products to minors.

In a statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said:

“We sent a letter today to the corporate management of Walgreen Co. to request a meeting to discuss whether this is a corporate-wide issue related to their stores’ track record of violating the law by illegally selling tobacco products to kids.”

He remarked that the number of violations “cannot possibly come as a surprise to corporate leadership.” [2]

In response, Walgreens said: [1]

“We welcome the opportunity to meet with the Commissioner of Food and Drugs to discuss all of the steps we are taking regarding this important issue. We have a zero tolerance policy prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors and any employee violating this policy is subject to immediate termination.

While lowering the visibility of tobacco products in certain stores, we also continue to focus efforts on promoting cessation products and services, and all of our pharmacists and technicians are trained and certified on supporting any customer wanting to quit on their terms.”

Read: The FDA is Threatening to Yank E-Cigarettes off the Market

What the FDA’s ‘Undercover Checks’ Found

In its undercover checks, the FDA said the following chains had tobacco sales violation rates of:

  • Between 35% to 44%: Marathon, Exxon, Sunoco, BP, Citgo and Mobil gas stations.
  • Between 25% and 34%: Shell, Chevron, Casey’s General Stores and 7-Eleven.
  • Between 15% and 24%: Family Dollar, Kroger, Walgreens, Circle K and Walmart.

Some of the chains flagged by the FDA do not own or operate the locations that operate under their brand names, such as Exxon and Mobil stations. Some of these are “national retail chains, either corporate-owned or franchised.” It’s not clear if the FDA plans to target the corporations whose brand names were implicated in the agency’s investigation.

Gottlieb said:

“We plan to similarly hold them accountable. We will ask them to share with us what policies they have in place and what more they can commit to do to prevent youth tobacco sales.”

In 2014, Walgreens’ major competitor, CVS, stopped selling tobacco products altogether, resulting in an 8% drop in general merchandise sales. [2]

CVS said it halted the sale of tobacco products because it “conflicted with our purpose of helping people on their path to better health.”


[1] USA Today

[2] CNN