Retail pharmacy giant Walgreens Boots Alliance has racked up the most violations for illegally selling tobacco products to minors among pharmacies, sparking an enforcement action from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday.
The FDA found that 22% of Walgreens’ 6,350 stores inspected since 2010 have allowed minors to purchase tobacco products.
“I will be writing the corporate management of Walgreens and requesting a meeting with them to discuss whether there is a corporate-wide issue related to their stores’ non-compliance and put them on notice that the FDA is considering additional enforcement avenues to address their record of violative tobacco sales to youth,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.
In an email response,Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso stated the company has taken “a number of steps” to address the issue, including requiring all customers purchasing tobacco products to show identification in all of their stores.
He said the company is in the process of training employees its more than 9,500 stores on the new policy. Employees who violate the policy will face stronger disciplinary actions than before.
“We recognize the seriousness of this issue and welcome the opportunity to meet with the FDA (commissioner) to discuss all of the steps we are taking since the health and well being of our customers is our top priority and core mission,” Caruso wrote.
The FDA wants to prevent one Walgreens store in Miami from selling tobacco products for 30 days, after the pharmacy violated that law five times between Jan. 25, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2018.
All in all, Walgreens stores across the country have received 1,550 warning letters since 2010 and more than 240 civil monetary penalties. Gottlieb said they committed nearly 1,800 violations for selling tobacco products to minors.
“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.
The FDA on Thursday said it was also taking action against a Circle K store in Charleston, S.C., for repeated violations in selling tobacco products to minors. That company has received 1,045 warning letters and 205 civil money penalty actions since 2010.
An estimated 4.9 million middle school and high school students in 2018 reported using tobacco products in the last 30 days.
Health officials say current tobacco use among high school students increased by 38% and by 29% among middle school students during the 2017-18 school year, which they say is due to the popularity of e-cigarettes.