The FDA identified the drug store chain Walgreens as the biggest pharmacy violator of restrictions on selling electronic cigarettes and other tobacco products to youth — and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, formally requested a meeting with company executives to discuss the issue.
In a letter sent Monday to the corporate management of Walgreens Co., Gottlieb noted that the meeting would address “whether there is a corporate-wide issue related to their store’s track record of violating the law by illegally selling tobacco products to kids.”
In February, the FDA announced that 22% of the 6,350 Walgreens stores inspected across the country were found to have illegally sold tobacco products to minors. At that time, Gottlieb said he would be requesting a meeting with Walgreens management.
“Both the rate of violations and sheer volume of violative inspections of Walgreens stores are disturbing, particularly since the company positions itself as a health-and-wellness-minded business,” Gottlieb noted in the March 4 letter. “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.”
While Walgreens was identified as the biggest pharmacy violator of the ban on tobacco sales to minors, close to a dozen major convenience store and gasoline chains had higher percentages of inspected stores found violating the sales restriction.
From 35% to 44% of inspected Marathon, Exxon, Sunoco, BP, Citgo, and Mobil stores, and from 25% to 34% of inspected Shell, Chevron, 7-Eleven, and Casey’s General Store facilities had violations, the agency said.
Violations were found at 15% to 24% of inspected Family Dollar, Kroger, Circle K, and Walmart stores.
“We plan to similarly hold them accountable,” Gottlieb noted. “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. Companies should be on notice that the FDA is considering additional enforcement avenues to address high rates of violations.”
In response to Gottlieb’s letter, Walgreen Co. issued a statement Monday afternoon stating that company executives would welcome the opportunity to meet with the FDA commissioner “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,” said Phil Caruso, a company spokesperson. “We require age verification from anyone purchasing these products, regardless of age, in all of our stores nationwide.”
“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,” Caruso stated.
In addition, the FDA said Monday it had sent warning letters to a variety of other companies selling e-cigarettes and also a waterpipe-type product for failing to include the required nicotine warnings. It also has requested information on other tobacco-based products from more than three dozen other companies that the agency suspects are being illegally marketed.