The Trump administration on Monday requested a meeting with Walgreen Co. to discuss the alleged illegal sale of tobacco at the pharmacy chain, the latest in a series of moves by the Food and Drug Administration to curb smoking of regular and electronic cigarettes among the nation’s youth.
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The agency in February alleged that 22 percent of Walgreens stores illegally sold tobacco products to minors, one of the 15 national retail chains with 15 percent or more of total stores that have failed federal inspections. Among the other companies listed are Walmart, Kroger and Casey’s General Stores.
In a statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Walgreens’ results “cannot possibly come as a surprise to corporate leadership” and requested a meeting with the executive team “to discuss the important role they play, as a nationwide retailer, in curbing this epidemic.”
“Ignoring the law and then paying associated fines and penalties should not simply be viewed as a cost of doing business. The stakes are too high for our young people,” Gottlieb wrote. “Walgreens, and other retail chains, should take seriously not only their legal obligations, but also the substantial public health importance of preventing tobacco product sales to minors at their stores.”
A Walgreens spokesperson said the company welcomes a meeting to discuss "all of the steps we are taking regarding this important issue."
"We have a zero tolerance policy prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors and any employee violating this policy is subject to immediate termination," he said in an emailed statement.
The FDA has also taken aim at electronic cigarette manufacturers. Gottlieb previously accused popular brand Juul of failing to follow through on a stated promise to assist the administration in curtailing the growing prevalence of teenage vaping. In February, he requested a meeting with the company and Marlboro cigarette maker Altria -- which bought a 35 percent stake in Juul in December.
Last year, the FDA put restrictions on the sale of flavored e-cigs in convenience stores and gas stations. Faced with an increasingly hostile regulatory environment, Juul increased its spending on federal advocacy to $1.5 million in 2018 -- up from $120,000 in the prior year.
Also on Monday, the agency sent warning letters to websites including The-Vape-Place for failing to include nicotine warnings on their products.