Lawmakers Call on Pharmacies to Snuff Out Tobacco Sales

A Walgreens in Manhattan Beach, Calif.
The group of U.S. senators send letters to Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart and Dollar General.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Five years ago, CVS Health Corp. announced it was exiting the tobacco business. Now a group of lawmakers would like other pharmacy chains to follow CVS' lead.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) sent letters to Walgreens, Walmart Inc., Rite Aid Corp. and Dollar General Corp. asking them to stop selling tobacco products.

The requests came one week after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called out Walgreens for selling tobacco products to underage consumers.

On Feb. 7, the agency filed complaints seeking No-Tobacco-Sale Orders (NTSO) against Walgreens and Circle K for repeated violations on the sale and distribution of tobacco products, including cigars and menthol cigarettes to minors.

The NTSO actions seek to bar a Circle K store in Charleston, S.C., and a Walgreens drug store in Miami from selling tobacco products for 30 days, as Convenience Store News previously reported.

In response to the FDA, Walgreens stated: "We take this matter very seriously and have taken a number of steps to help address the important issue of sales of these products to minors, including requiring identification for anyone purchasing tobacco products regardless of age in all of our stores nationwide.

"In addition, we are training all of our store team members on the new requirements and strengthening disciplinary actions against store 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 well-being of our customers is our top priority and core mission," the company added.

According to the agency, Walgreens is currently the top violator among pharmacies that sell tobacco products, with 22 percent of the stores inspected having illegally sold tobacco products to minors.

"Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 480,000 people every year. For the first time in decades, tobacco use among children is increasing. And, according to the FDA, your stores are outliers in selling these dangerous, addictive tobacco products to children," the senators wrote to the retailers. "If your company is truly committed to improving communities, helping young people and fighting cancer, we strongly encourage you to stop selling tobacco products in your stores." 

The lawmakers sent similar requests to Walgreens, Rite Aid and Walmart five years ago when CVS phased tobacco products out of its stores.

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