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Leon Kaye headshot

You Now Must Be 21 to Buy Tobacco at Walmart

By Leon Kaye
As the backlash over teen vaping gets louder, Walmart is the latest retailer to announce that it would stop selling tobacco products to consumers under the age of 21.

As the backlash over teen vaping gets louder, Walmart is the latest retailer to announce that it would stop selling tobacco products to consumers under the age of 21.

Tobacco companies have said going “smokeless” could transform their business models while helping people quit cigarettes. But that agenda hasn’t quite gone as planned as teen vaping has surged in recent years. Feeling the heat, more retailers including Walgreens and Rite Aid have announced they would stop selling tobacco products to consumers under the age of 21. Now Walmart will do the same, as of July 1.

“While we have implemented a robust compliance program, we are not satisfied with falling short of our company-wide goal of 100 percent compliance,” John Scudder, U.S. chief compliance and ethics officer at Walmart, said in a public statement.

The company was one of many to receive a letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that inquired about policies and procedures in place to prevent tobacco sales to minors.

The FDA has accused many manufacturers and retailers of not doing enough to curb the spread of teen vaping. Another agency, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), concluded that vaping is unsafe for anyone at any age, but particularly for teenagers and young adults as old as their mid-20s. One brand in particular has been put under a microscope as its rise in popularity drew the attention of more critics.

“Take a look at JUUL, whose damage was accelerated by rapid scale,” said Barie Carmichael, senior counselor at APCO Worldwide, Batten Fellow at The University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate Business School and co-author of Reset: Business and Society in the New Social Landscape, in an interview with 3p earlier this year.

Despite ongoing concerns over the risks vaping could pose to human health, the FDA has accused manufacturers and retailers of not doing enough to curb the spread of teen vaping—and keeps identifying more health problems, such as seizures, as a result of vaping’s popularity. As a result, more companies are deciding they have no choice but to do what they can to ensure these products don’t end up in teenagers’ hands. To that end, Walmart will also discontinue any sales of fruit- or dessert-flavored vaping products.

Walmart’s shift in tobacco sales comes just as the company issued its first environmental, social and governance (ESG) report. That report outlines other public health initiatives, including the launch of training programs that train pharmacists on educating consumers about opioid abuse, more access to health screenings for customers and a green chemistry program designed to make household products more sustainable.

Watch for more companies to do what they can to put the kibosh on teen vaping, as it has become clear that any resulting profits are not worth the potential brand reputation risk. As a reminder, CVS should score the lion’s share of credit for big tobacco’s latest setback, as it stopped selling tobacco products altogether in 2014. The Rhode Island-based company has since distributed more than $1 million in grants to colleges and universities with the goal to increase the number of tobacco-free campuses across the U.S.

Image credit: Ruslan Alekso/Pexels; Vaping 360/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye