Walmart moving to curb tobacco sales to minors

Published 1:11 am Thursday, May 9, 2019

In an attempt to help reduce the underage consumption of tobacco, Walmart will stop selling tobacco products and e-cigarette products to those under 21, effective July 1.

On April 5, 2019, the Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to Walmart stating the retailer had fallen short of the policies put in place to prevent the sale of tobacco and electronic nicotine delivery systems to anyone underage.

John Scudder, the U.S. Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer of Walmart, replied to the FDA Wednesday, outlining the actions  Walmart is taking to prevent tobacco sales to minors.

“We would like to clarify our historical compliance rates and highlight some of our existing controls and efforts relating to underage tobacco sales,” Scudder said. “Since 2010, the FDA has conducted approximately 12,800 retailer compliance checks involving minors at Wal-Mart stores and Sam’s Club locations. Over that period, Walmart and Sam’s Club passed 93 percent and 99 percent, respectively, of those checks. Most recently, in 2018, Walmart stores passed 94 percent of the more than 2,400 FDA checks, and Sam’s Club passed 100 percent of its 15 FDA checks. While we are not satisfied with falling short of our companywide goal of 100 percent compliance, those compliance rates nonetheless are significantly higher than the rates referenced in Dr. Gottlieb’s April 5 letter, and, in our fair view, more fairly and accurately portray our performance.”

Along with the age increase, the retail giant also is discontinuing the sale of fruit and dessert-flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems.

“We are voluntarily making two significant changes to our product offerings and business practices,” Scudder said. “Both aiming at reducing the likelihood of an underage sale, and both of which go beyond what the law requires. First we are in the process of discontinuing the sale of fruit and dessert flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems, which the FDA research has shown to be preferred to minors. Second, as of July 1, 2019, across our entire U.S. business, we are raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21.”

Scudder said that even a single sale of a tobacco product to a minor is one too many.

“We take seriously our responsibilities in this regard,” Scudder said. “The FDA can be assured that we will remain focused on improving our compliance program and rates and that any sale to minor violation will be handled promptly and appropriately and viewed not as a cost of doing business, but as a breach of trust with the customers and the communities we serve.”

Local Walmart managers declined to be interviewed .

Last month, Walgreens and Rite Aid announced similar initiatives to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco in their stores to 21.

Walgreen’s new policy will take effect on Sept. 1, while Rite Aid’s will be implemented in July.