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September 30, 2003

Miller: Wal-Mart to Up Efforts to Curb Tobacco Sales to Minors

DES MOINES.   Attorney General Tom Miller announced today that Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer and employer, has agreed to a battery of new policies and procedures aimed at cutting sales of tobacco to minors. Wal-Mart has 3,469 stores nationwide and 60 stores in Iowa.

"This is a very important milestone in the effort to reduce tobacco addiction, because most people get hooked on tobacco as kids," Miller said. "Wal-Mart is a huge tobacco retailer, and these steps will help prevent sales to minors."

Miller's office has led a multi-state effort by state attorney general offices to urge giant retail operations to adopt measures to avoid sales to minors of cigarettes and other tobacco products, including chewing tobacco and snuff. Forty-three states entered the agreement with Wal-Mart. Iowa also helped lead the states' team that negotiated previous agreements with other giant retailers, including Walgreens,ExxonMobil, and BP Amoco. "These are among the largest sellers of tobacco in the nation," Miller said.

The agreement requires Wal-Mart to:

  • Check the ID of any person purchasing tobacco products when the person appears to be under age 27, and only accept valid government-issued photo identification as proof of age.
  • Use cash registers programmed to prompt ID checks on all tobacco sales.
  • Hire an independent entity to conduct random compliance checks of approximately 10% of Wal-Mart stores every six months.
  • Prohibit self-service displays of cigarettes and the use of vending machines to sell tobacco products.
  • Prohibit the sale of smoking paraphernalia to minors.
  • Train employees on state and local laws and company policies regarding tobacco sales to minors, including explaining the health-related reasons for laws that restrict youth access to tobacco.

"All this is crucial because four out of five people start smoking as children," Miller said. "About one-third of them will die from tobacco-related disease. Young people are particularly susceptible to the hazards of tobacco. This is a very important issue."

In Iowa over the last three years, Miller said, Wal-Mart stores failed compliance checks about 17% of the time in 228 checks made by the Alcoholic Beverages Division. Compliance checks involve minors aged 15-17 attempting to buy tobacco products under supervision of local law enforcement officers.

"There were violations in almost one-fifth of the compliance checks," Miller said. "Retailers need to do better than that, and we hope all these safeguards will accomplish exactly that."

The Attorneys General will monitor compliance with the agreement and they have reserved the right to enforce future violations of the agreement, as well as the laws governing the sale of tobacco to minors.

The New York, Maryland, Iowa, and California Attorney General offices were the lead negotiators in reaching the agreement with Wal-Mart. Miller said Iowa Assistant Attorney General Steve St. Clair of the Consumer Protection Division founded and has led the states' working group on forging agreements with major tobacco retailers.

The Walmart agreement, or AAssurance of Voluntary Compliance," is the latest product of the ongoing, multi-state enforcement effort, begun in 2000 when a group of Attorney General offices joined to form the Attorney General Tobacco Retailing Group to address high rates of sale of tobacco products to minors by national retailers. The Group currently consists of representatives from 30 Attorney General offices.

After reviewing data on sales to minors, the Group identified a number of retailers with both a large national presence and high rates of such sales. The Group also formulated Abest practices@ for responsible retailing of tobacco products, based on consultations with researchers, the Centers for Disease Control, and state tobacco control staff who monitor retail sales of tobacco to minors. The Group=s goal has been to work with offending retailers to reach Assurances of Voluntary Compliance, embodying the adoption of specific tobacco retailing policies and practices that would result in decreased sales to minors.

The Group has concluded agreements with Walgreens (the nation=s largest drug store chain), ExxonMobil (the nation=s largest oil company), and two agreements with BP Products (among the nation=s largest oil companies), one for its BP and Amoco outlets and another for its ARCO outlets. The agreements affect the approximately 4,000 Walgreens stores and 30,000 gas stations and convenience stores operating under the Exxon, Mobil, BP, Amoco, and ARCO brand names in the signatory states. Each agreement other than the ARCO agreement, which affects only the five states in which there are ARCO stations, has been signed by between 39 and 46 Attorneys General.

The states participating in the Wal-Mart agreement are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

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