8 Feb, 2019FORTUNE.COM
The Food and Drug Administration filed a complaint against a Walgreens pharmacy in Miami for selling tobacco products to minors--an issue the FDA says is prolific at Walgreens stores across the nation. The complaint, filed Thursday, could force the location to temporarily cease selling tobacco products.
While only the Miami storefront was issued the complaint, the FDA says the Walgreens pharmacy chain as a whole violates tobacco regulations more than any other pharmacy, with 22% of inspected stores having illegally sold tobacco products to minors.
The violations have led to more than 1,550 warning letters and 240 civil money penalty actions against Walgreens stores nationwide.
“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,” said FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., in a statement.
Gottlieb said the FDA is “considering additional enforcement avenues” to address Walgreens’ violations, adding that he’s “deeply disturbed” a single pharmacy chain was able to rack up nearly 1,800 citations for selling tobacco products to minors.
“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 front lines of these efforts and must take that legal obligation seriously,” said Gottlieb.
Walgreens said it’s taken steps towards eliminating violations, including asking store clerks to ask for identification for any customer looking to buy tobacco products and implementing harsher disciplinary action for employees who don’t comply.
“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," a Walgreens spokesman told Bloomberg.
Preliminary results of the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey state that current e-cigarette use increased by 78% among high school students between 2017 and 2018, with an estimated 4.9 million middle and high school students having used a tobacco product within the past 30 days.
Through its Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan, the FDA has aimed to decrease these numbers with restrictions like its ban on flavored e-cigarettes in November.
“Because tobacco use is almost always initiated and established during adolescence, early intervention--including making sure tobacco products aren’t being sold to kids--is critical,” said the FDA in a statement.
Gottlieb said the FDA is also evaluating data on other large, national retail chains.