(Reuters) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday it was taking action against certain retailers including Walgreen Boots Alliance for repeatedly flouting tobacco sale rules, including sale of cigars and menthol cigarettes to minors.
Walgreens is currently the top violator among pharmacies that sell tobacco products, with 22 percent of its inspected stores having illegally sold tobacco products to minors, the U.S. health regulator said in a statement.
“I will be writing (to) 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,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said.
The agency filed complaints seeking to bar a Walgreens store in Miami, Florida and a Circle K store in Charleston, South Carolina, owned by Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc, from selling tobacco products for 30 days.
“We take this matter very seriously and have taken a number of steps to help address the important issue of sales of these products to minors,” a Walgreens spokesman said in an e-mail statement.
Alimentation Couche-Tard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Thursday’s action against Walgreens follows over 1,550 warning letters and 240 civil money penalty actions against its stores nationwide for unlawful tobacco product sales to minors, the agency said.
The FDA has rolled out a Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan as part of its push to discourage teens from smoking.
Last year, the agency announced sweeping restrictions on flavored tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes. It also plans to seek a ban on menthol cigarettes, a longtime goal of public health advocates, as well as flavored cigars.
An epidemic-level rise in the popularity of e-cigarettes lately has led to a 38 percent increase in overall tobacco product use among high school students and 29 percent among middle school students last year, reversing the declines seen in the last few years, the FDA said.
(Reporting by Tamara Mathias and Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)