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Walmart to raise e-cig, tobacco purchase age

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Will increase minimum age to 21 by July 1

By Tammy Shaw

Walmart isn’t satisfied with its tobacco policy, prompting a nationwide change.

A corporate press statement from the big box retailer dated May 8 outlined a response to a letter from then-U.S. Commissioner of Federal Drug Administration regarding the company’s additional efforts to discourage tobacco and vaping product sales to minors.

The release identified the company’s goal of 100 percent compliance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration policies regarding tobacco sales to minors.

Beginning in 2010, the FDA conducted 12,800 compliance visits involving minors at various Walmart and Sam’s Club stores.

These site visits found that 93 percent of Walmart and 99 percent of Sam’s Club tobacco and e-cigarette sales were to people 18 and over. Of 2,400 checks in 2018 Walmart rated 94 percent and Sam’s 100 percent in 15 FDA checks. “While we are not satisfied with falling short of our companywide goal of 100 percent compliance, those compliance rates nonetheless are significantly higher than” the reports in the April 5 letter from the FDA.

In a letter dated May 8 to acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Norman Sharpless, Walmart, on behalf of the retail giant and Sam’s Club brand said, “While we have implemented a robust compliance program, we are not satisfied with falling short of our company-wide goal of 100 percent compliance.” The statement continued, “Even a single sale to a minor is one too many, and we take seriously our responsibilities in this regard.”

“We take seriously our related responsibilities as a retailer and are committed to...taking further steps that are aimed at prevent these sales in our stores and clubs,” the letter to Sharpless stated.

Walmart will implement the following measures July 1 in an effort to gain 100 percent compliance within the US market:

Raise to 21 the minimum purchase for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, although the law states consumers 18 and older may buy these products.

Eliminate the sale of fruit- and dessert-flavored e-cigarettes, currently in progress — products thought to attract youth to vaping.

But the statement does not mention worldwide sales.

Walmart press relations’ Molly Blakeman confirmed that the initiative is U.S.-based only.

Other retailers have curbed cigarette sales or discontinued sales.

CVS stopped selling tobacco products in March 2015.

A 2016 study published in “American Journal of Public Health” assessed the impact of CVS Health’s ban on cigarettes and found that discontinuing retail sales at the stores “had a meaningful effect on cigarette purchasing behavior,” the report stated.

Former CVS tobacco customers were 38 percent less likely to buy tobacco at other stores, and heavy smokers, three or more packs per day, were more than twice as likely to stop buying the product.