FDA calls out retailers for selling tobacco products to minors

FDA calls out retailers for selling tobacco products to minors
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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publicly put on notice retail stores that have repeatedly been caught illegally selling tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to minors.

The agency on Monday named 15 national stores that had violation rates of at least 15 percent, including Marathon, Exxon, BP, Sunoco, Citgo, Shell and 7-Eleven.

The stores with the most violations were primarily major gas stations, convenience stores and retailers.

“The stakes are too high for our young people and our country’s decades-long fight to reduce the morbidity and mortality that accompanies tobacco product use,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. “Retailers are on the frontlines of these efforts to reduce the health consequences of tobacco use and nicotine dependence.”

Gottlieb also requested a meeting with the corporate management of Walgreens “to discuss whether there is a corporate-wide issue related to their stores’ track record of violating the law by illegally selling tobacco products to kids.”

FDA first requested a meeting last month, after the agency said the company’s stores racked up almost 1,800 violations across the country. FDA said 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.

“This cannot possibly come as a surprise to corporate leadership, which is why I want to sit down with them to discuss the important role they play, as a nationwide retailer, in curbing this epidemic,” Gottlieb said.

In a statement, a Walgreen's spokesman said the company welcomes "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."

Gottlieb said FDA is also exploring ways to partner with state attorneys general to help combat youth e-cigarette use.

We’re confronting a deeply troubling public health epidemic with youth e-cigarette use that’s threatening the progress we’ve made in reducing youth tobacco use. The sharp rise in the number of teens using e-cigarettes illustrates the need to work together with diverse stakeholders and remain vigilant in our shared effort to reverse these trends,” Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb said he wants retailers to know their responsibilities under the law and the consequences for violating them.

The agency will continue “vigorous enforcement activities, with a sustained campaign to monitor, penalize and help prevent e-cigarette sales to minors in retail locations, including manufacturers’ internet storefronts,” Gottlieb said.

The FDA is already cracking down on e-cigarettes, as the agency battles an epidemic of vaping 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 students reported in 2018 that they had used a tobacco product in the last 30 days.

“While we recognize those [retailers] who have taken some positive steps to confront this epidemic, we also know there’s more for them to do and that bad actors continue to put youth at risk despite knowing the law and for their own financial gain,” Gottlieb said.