WASHINGTON — Stepping up its public scrutiny of tobacco sales to minors, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) filed complaints seeking No-Tobacco-Sales Orders (NTSOs) specifically for two stores: one a Circle K convenience store and the other a Walgreens drugstore, which would bar the locations from selling tobacco products for 30 days, the agency said in a press release.
Notably, Walgreens is the top violator among pharmacies that sell tobacco products, with 22% of the stores inspected having illegally sold tobacco products to minors, the agency said in the release.
The two stores named in the NTSO actions are a Walgreens in Miami and a Circle K in Charleston, S.C.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he would write to both companies to discuss whether a “corporate issue” relating to noncompliance exists and to “put them on notice” that the FDA is considering additional enforcement avenues to address the issue.
“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,” Gottlieb said.
Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens issued a public statement saying the company takes the matter of underage sales of tobacco products very seriously and has taken steps to address the issue, including requiring identification for anyone purchasing tobacco products regardless of age in all of its U.S. stores.
“In addition, we are training all of our store team members on the new requirements and strengthening disciplinary actions against store employees who violate the policy,” the Walgreens statement said. “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 since the health and well-being of our customers is our top priority and core mission.”
Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., Laval, Quebec, parent company of the Circle K chain, issued this statement: “At Circle K, we have become aware of the action taken by the FDA against one of our stores in Charleston, S.C., and will work with the agency on this issue. We at Circle K take pride in being a responsible retailer of age-restricted products and will continue to adhere to federal and local laws.”
When the FDA finds violations through its inspections processes, the agency generally issues warning letters and may take enforcement actions, including civil money penalties and NTSOs, the agency said.
The NTSO action against this Walgreens outlet follows the issuance of more than 1,550 warning letters and 240 civil money penalty actions against Walgreens stores nationwide for alleged unlawful tobacco product sales to minors. This is, however, the first NTSO action taken against a Walgreens store, the agency said.
While the NTSO action against Circle K is not its first, it marks the first time the agency has initiated an NTSO complaint for the sale of deemed products—in this case, cigars—to minors, the agency said.
Since 2010, the FDA has issued more than 1,045 warning letters and 205 civil money penalty actions to retailers doing business as Circle K for alleged sales to minors.