Walmart raises age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes

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Walmart raises age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes

By Marianne Wilson - 05/08/2019
Walmart has joined the growing list of retailers who are raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products amid mounting pressure from federal regulators to curb sales to minors. It’s also going one step further.

The discounter announced that, as of July 1, 2019, it is raising the minimum age across its U.S. store portfolio to purchase tobacco products, including all e-cigarettes, to 21. Walmart also said it in the process of totally discontinuing the sale of fruit- and dessert-flavored e-cigarettes, which FDA research has shown are preferred by minors.

In April, the Food and Drug Administration sent letters to assorted retailers, including Walmart, Kroger Co. and Walgreens, regarding the sale of tobacco to minors, and asking the retailers to submit a plan of action to mitigate illegal tobacco sales to minors, or pay a fine.

“While we have implemented a robust compliance program, we are not satisfied with falling short of our company-wide goal of 100% compliance,” stated John Scudder, U.S. chief compliance and ethics officer, Walmart Inc. “Even a single sale to a minor is one too many, and we take seriously our responsibilities in this regard. “

Walmart sent a letter to the FDA outlining the additional measures it is taking to keep tobacco out of the hands of minors. Beyond the age requirement and ban on desert-flavored e-cigarettes, the chain plans to conduct some 8,000 third-party secret-shopper visits in 2019 to monitor age-verification controls. It also plans to institute tighter penalties for cashiers who don’t follow the policies, saying employees who fail a secret-shopper check “will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”

In addition, Walmart plans to use virtual-reality technology to upgrade and reinforce its age-verification training.

Walmart’s full letter to the FDA can be found here.

Walmart’s decision to hike the age for buying tobacco products follows similar moves by Walgreens and Rite Aid. U.S. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell plans to introduce legislation to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco products, including vaping devices, to 21 from 18.

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