FDA Chief Scott Gottlieb warns Walgreens, Circle K: Stop selling tobacco to kids or else!

It’s not just Juul Labs and The Altria Group which have incited the anger of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for allegedly selling vapor or tobacco products to minors.  According to a February 7 statement issued by FDA Chief Scott Gottlieb, the popular pharmacy chain Walgreens has racked up nearly 1,800 such violations nationwide since 2010.

According to the FDA press announcement, 22 percent of the more than 6,300 company stores across America have already violated the regulatory requirements regarding underage sales since 2010.  This figure makes the Walgreens company the nations “top violator among pharmacies that sell tobacco products.”

Furthermore, at least one specific retail location is so negligent in asking for proper identification from potential teenage purchasers that the FDA wants to curtail their tobacco sales for a period of 30-days.   The agency is already seeking No-Tobacco-Sale Orders (NTSO) for a Miami, Florida Walgreens and a Circle K convenience store in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Gottlieb’s obsession with teen vaping and smoking

But Walgreens’ plight doesn’t end there. Like a middle schooler being called to the principal’s office for cheating on exams, the FDA Commissioner is also “requesting” that Walgreens executives meet with him in-person to officially “put them on notice” and discuss issues “related to their stores’ non-compliance” troubles.

“I will be writing the corporate management of Walgreens and requesting a meeting with them to discuss whether there is a corporate-wide issue related to their stores’ non-compliance and put them on notice that the FDA is considering additional enforcement avenues to address their record of violative tobacco sales to youth. We all share the important responsibility of keeping harmful and addictive tobacco products out of the hands of kids. Retailers in particular – especially those who position themselves as health-and-wellness-minded businesses – are on the frontlines of these efforts and must take that legal obligation seriously. I’m also deeply disturbed that a single pharmacy chain racked up almost 1,800 violations for selling tobacco products to minors across the country. I have particular concerns about whether the pharmacy setting is influencing consumer and retailer perceptions around tobacco products in a way that’s contributing to these troubling findings...”

Mr. Gottlieb loves to write letters.  He’s notorious for writing letters to company executives in both the vaping and tobacco industries demanding sit-down chats about their alleged malpractices regarding underage usage.  Juul Labs has experienced several of these mandatory interactions already, and the FDA has requested another just last week.   

Related Article: Gottlieb drags another 21 vape companies into FDA probe over ‘teen vaping’

Unfortunately, this is not the first FDA warning letter for the Walgreens pharmacy chain either.  On January 25, 2019, the FDA sent a similar letter to a Walgreens site manager in Boulder, Colorado. Not only was the store chastised for underage tobacco sales, the letter spelled out in creepy detail exactly what the infraction was – including the time and date of the underage purchase and the specific tobacco product involved. 

“A minor was able to buy Camel Crush cigarettes on January 11, 2018, at approximately 5:24 PM in the establishment.”

In a statement to Fox Business, a spokesman for the pharmacy chain explained that the company is taking the matter very seriously and is already taking several steps to address the issues.  Remedial processes include additional training for store employees and harsher disciplinary actions against store employees found to be in violation.  As for the meeting with FDA Chief Gottlieb, the Walgreens spokesperson says that company executives remain “open” to the idea.

Related Article: FDA’s Gottlieb talks to Juul; promises ‘new action plan’ on vaping within days

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

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