DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreens said Tuesday it welcomed the opportunity to meet with Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb to discuss the steps it is taking to prevent the sale of tobacco products to minors. The retailer issued the statement after Gottlieb said the FDA had written to Walgreens “to request a meeting 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.”
(Not long after Walgreens released its statement, it was confirmed that Gottlieb plans to step down from his post at the end of the month.)
In its response, Walgreens said, “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. 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.”
All told, the FDA accused 15 national retailers, including Walmart, Kroger, Family Dollar and several convenience store chains, of selling tobacco products to youths. The agency said it was considering “enforcement avenues” to address high rates of violations” at the chains after over 1 million undercover checks since 2010 exposed excessive sales to minors.
Gottlieb called Walgreens “the top violator among pharmacies that sell tobacco products, with 22% of the more than 6,350 stores that we inspected having illegally sold tobacco products to minors. 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. 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.”