FDA stings retailers for selling tobacco to minors
Health regulators have hit some 1,200 retailers with warnings this year for unlawfully selling cigarettes and other tobacco products to children.
Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 04:30 PM
SMOKING: Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. Every day, some 3,450 Americans between 12 and 17 years old try their first cigarette, and about 850 youths become daily smokers. (Photo: Valentin.Ottone/flickr)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Health regulators have hit some 1,200 retailers, including Walgreen, CVS and Rite Aid, with warnings this year for unlawfully selling cigarettes and other tobacco products to children under 18.
The Food and Drug Administration said inspectors had made 27,500 undercover checks, many of which involved sending minors to stores to buy cigarettes. The undercover operations resulted in hundreds of warning letters to retailers.
Spokesmen for CVS Caremark Corp and Rite Aid Corp said the companies regretted that their policies were not followed.
Rite Aid was taking corrective action at the seven stores that received warning letters, including retraining all the staff, the company spokesman said. CVS took appropriate actions to correct problems at its six stores and since the FDA's inspection program began, CVS spokesman said, the retailer has had a success rate of more than 98 percent.
Walgreen Co was not immediately available for comment.
The FDA received broad authority over tobacco manufacturing and sales from the Tobacco Control Act of 2009. One of the provisions allows the agency to contract with states to inspect spots where youths could buy cigarettes or chewable tobacco.
The law requires store workers to check identification of anybody who appears younger than 27.
The FDA posted the warning letters online on Thursday alongside a vast searchable database of all conducted compliance checks. The letters allow retailers to correct their mistakes without fines. Repeat offenders could face fines or loss of ability to sell tobacco.
"We applaud the efforts made by many retail establishments to protect our kids, but ... it's 1,200 too many" stores that allowed minors to buy tobacco products, Ann Simoneau with FDA's Center for Tobacco Products told reporters on a press call.
"We've seen violations across the board, in all kinds of establishments," she said when asked whether FDA targeted any specific types of stores.
Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. Every day, some 3,450 Americans between 12 and 17 years old try their first cigarette, and about 850 youths become daily smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
FDA officials said they are on a mission to begin battling the stubbornly high U.S. smoking rates by keeping tobacco out of underage hands in the first place.
"The public education, compliance checks and warning letters are good for a start. What will be critical is that FDA act aggressively on repeat offenders," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Earlier this year, the FDA released nine new graphic images they are requiring tobacco companies to place prominently on cigarette packs and advertising.
Several companies, led by Reynolds American Inc's R.J. Reynolds unit, balked at the new labels, which depict diseased lungs, dead bodies and rotting teeth. They sued the FDA, saying the agency breached their First Amendment rights.
On Monday, a federal judge blocked the rule and granted a temporary injunction.
(Additional reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Matthew Lewis)
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