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May 9, 2011

Attorney General Announces Agreement with Circle K to Curb Tobacco Sales to Minors

40 states sign agreement, covering about 4,000 Circle K outlets

(DES MOINES, Iowa)  Attorney General Tom Miller announced today that he has joined the attorneys general of 39other jurisdictions (38states and the District of Columbia) in an agreement with Circle K Stores, Inc. and Mac’s Convenience Stores LLC to enhance efforts to eliminate underage tobacco sales.  The agreement, called an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, covers about 4,000 convenience store operations in 32 states, all of which sell tobacco products.  Stores covered by the agreement operate under the names Circle K, Dairy Mart, and On the Run.  There are currently three stores in Iowa affected by the agreement, in Burlington, Clinton and Muscatine, but Miller noted that this number may well grow.

Under the agreement, Circle K will adopt specific procedures designed to reduce sales and marketing of cigarettes and other tobacco products to minors in all of its approximately 3,000 corporate-owned stores, and will adopt various methods designed to curb underage tobacco sales at another 1,000 franchise locations.

“To its credit, Circle K is joining the roster of companies that have committed to a leadership role, by ramping up safeguards against youth access to tobacco, in Iowa and nationwide," Miller said.   

The Assurance of Voluntary Compliance was produced by an ongoing, multi-state enforcement effort among the attorneys general, and incorporates "best practices" developed in consultation with public health experts and tobacco control officials.  The agreement with Circle K includes provisions for comprehensive training of retail personnel, independent compliance checks to monitor sales practices, advising contract operators that there will be serious ramifications imposed for underage tobacco sales, and several other protections.

Previous multistate agreements have covered gas station convenience stores selling fuel under the Conoco, Phillips 66 or 76, Exxon, Mobil, BP Amoco, Shell, Valero, ARCO and Chevron brand names, and retail and pharmacy chains Kroger, 7-Eleven, Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, and Walmart.

The agreement notes that the great majority of adult smokers started before they reached eighteen; that young people show signs of addiction after smoking only a few cigarettes; and that the younger a person begins to smoke the more likely he or she will be unable to quit and will suffer from a tobacco-related disease.  “That’s why it’s so vitally important to prevent young people from gaining ready access to tobacco, by vigorously enforcing the age restrictions on sales and by enlisting the aid of those tobacco sellers who are eager to do the right thing,” Miller said. "Every child who can reach adulthood tobacco-free represents a significant achievement, for that child and for the public generally,” Miller said. 

The Assurance of Voluntary Compliance includes the following terms (among others):

  • ID must be checked on all persons who appear to be under 30, to protect against mistakes by clerks in evaluating a person’s age by their appearance alone.
  • In-store advertising of tobacco must be limited in ways intended to reduce the effect on young people, and outdoor advertising is to be eliminated at stores within 500 feet of playgrounds or schools.
  • Employee training will focus on the mechanics of eliminating underage tobacco sales, and will also emphasize the serious health issues that give rise to the legal efforts to restrict youth access to tobacco.
  • Circle K will test itself on the effectiveness of its own safeguards against underage sales by conducting “mystery shopper” compliance checks at 500 of its stores every six months.
  • Circle K voluntarily agreed to pay the attorneys general a total of $225,000 to be used for such purposes as consumer education, public protection, or the implementation of programs protecting against tobacco use by minors.

“We commend Circle K for joining us in this ongoing effort to keep tobacco out of the hands of young people,” Miller said.

Miller's office and the California Attorney General's office have been leading a group of 35 states in a decade-long effort to improve safeguards against tobacco sales to minors nationwide.  The agreements that have been negotiated with chains of gas stations, convenience stores, drug stores, and grocery stores affect tobacco retailing practices at more than 100,000 retail outlets across the country.


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