FDA says nearly 1,400 Walgreens stores sold tobacco products to minors

FDA says nearly 1,400 Walgreens stores sold tobacco products to minors
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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is putting Walgreens on notice over the sales of tobacco products to minors. 

The FDA said on Thursday that 22 percent of the 6,350 stores it has inspected — or 1,397 locations — sold tobacco products to minors, making Walgreens the top violator among pharmacy chains. 

In all, Walgreens has racked up nearly 1,800 violations for selling tobacco products to minors, the agency added. 

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FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Thursday he is requesting a meeting with Walgreens's corporate management "to put them on notice that the FDA is considering additional enforcement avenues to address their record of violative tobacco sales to youth." 

The FDA has filed to ban one Walgreens location in Miami from selling tobacco products for 30 days for "repeated violations" of age restrictions. 

Gottlieb noted the irony of a pharmacy flouting tobacco restrictions, saying in a statement that retailers, especially health- and wellness-minded businesses, should take the law seriously. 

"I have particular concerns about whether the pharmacy setting is influencing consumer and retailer perceptions around tobacco products in a way that’s contributing to these troubling findings," Gottlieb said. 

A Walgreens spokesman said in a statement that the company takes the matter seriously and has taken a number of steps to address it, including requiring identification for anyone purchasing tobacco products, regardless of age. 

It's also training all of its store team members on the new requirements and strengthening disciplinary actions against employees who violate the policy. 

"We recognize the seriousness of this issue and welcome the opportunity to meet with the FDA Administrator to discuss all of the steps we are taking since the health and wellbeing of our customers is our top priority and core mission," spokesman Phil Caruso said in a statement.

The FDA is also evaluating its data to find other large, national retail chains that have high rates of repeat violations. 

Walmart, Rite Aid and Dollar General stores have violation rates ranging from 9.6 percent to 17.5 percent, the FDA said. 

The announcement comes as FDA battles an epidemic of e-cigarette use among minors. 

Overall tobacco use among minors has increased by 38 percent among high school students in the last year, largely due to e-cigarette use, the FDA said.

Nearly 5 million middle and high school reported in 2018 that they used a tobacco product in the last 30 days.