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February 13, 2002

Miller: Walgreens Taking Strong Steps to Block Tobacco Sales to Children

"Walgreens is setting a good standard for avoiding tobacco sales to kids."

DES MOINES. Attorney General Tom Miller announced Wednesday that Walgreens has agreed to what he called "a very strong battery of policies and procedures" to reduce the sale of tobacco products to children in Iowa and across the nation.

"This is a very important milestone in the effort to reduce tobacco addiction, because most people get hooked on tobacco as kids," said Miller. "Walgreens is setting a good standard for avoiding tobacco sales to minors."

Miller's office is leading 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 states are entering the agreement today with the Walgreen Company, which is based in Deerfield, Illinois. Iowa also helped lead the states' team that negotiated the "assurance of voluntary compliance" reached with Walgreens, one of the nation's largest drug store chains - and the first company to reach such an agreement in the states' effort.

Walgreens agreed to rigorous measures to avoid tobacco sales to minors, including:

  • Conducting "internal performance checks" by the company and using random, anonymous "external" performance checks by an independent entity to verify compliance.
  • Strengthening employee training on store policies and practices for avoiding sales to youths.
  • Using computer/cash registers that require clerks to enter information from a customer's photo identification for the sale of tobacco products and check identification for all persons who appear to be under age 27.
  • Using signage about age requirements for purchasing tobacco, and restricting in-store advertising of tobacco products.
  • Prohibiting distribution of free tobacco-product samples on store property.
  • Displaying cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products only in restricted access locations that require customer assistance [already restricted in Iowa.]
  • Not using vending machines to sell tobacco products [already restricted in Iowa.]

"Walgreens has stepped forward and demonstrated its commitment to responsible marketing of tobacco products," Miller said. "We certainly hope other companies will follow this example."

Steve St. Clair of the Iowa Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division is helping lead the 23-state group that is encouraging giant retail chains to adopt stronger measures to prevent sales to minors. "These chains have many thousands of retail outlets nationwide," Miller said. "We hope others follow the good lead set by Walgreens."

The agreement cites national statistics that four out of five regular adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18, and that the younger a person begins smoking, the more likely it is that he or she will be unable to quit later in life. Recent studies also indicate that youth demonstrate signs of addiction after smoking only a few cigarettes.

"In Iowa, about a thousand youths take up tobacco each month," Miller said, "and we can expect one-third of them to suffer premature illness and death as a result of tobacco-related diseases. This is a crucial issue for us in Iowa."

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