Walmart raises age to buy tobacco to 21

Walmart announced Wednesday that it will cease selling tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to customers under the age of 21.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, said in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the change will go into effect at all of its U.S. locations on July 1.

The company added that it intends to discontinue the sale of fruit- and dessert-flavored nicotine products, which have become popular among teenagers and younger users.

“We unequivocally acknowledge that even a single sale of a tobacco product to a minor is one too many, and we take seriously our responsibilities in this regard,” Walmart’s U.S. Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer John Scudder said in the letter.

The retailer said it would double down on disciplinary action against employees who fail to verify customers’ ages, including possible termination. Walmart also said it would employ virtual reality technology in its age-verification training to allow employees to train under a variety of possible scenarios on the job.

“The FDA can be assured that we will remain focused on improving our compliance program and rates and that any sale-to-minor violation will be handled promptly and appropriately–and viewed not as a cost of doing business but as a breach of trust with the customers and communities we serve.”

The company added that it would use data and analytics to more quickly identify possible risks and trends and “implement alerts, controls, training, or monitoring to reduce further risk of an underage sale.”

The move by Walmart comes after a series of other retail brands announced they would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21.

The adjustments came in response to a letter sent by the FDA to a slate of retailers last month, including Walmart, threatening fines over the illegal sale of tobacco products to minors. The FDA said at the time that Walmart had a 17 percent violation rate of underage tobacco sales, according to CNBC.

Efforts to raise the purchasing age of tobacco come amid what the FDA has labeled a youth vaping epidemic. About 3.6 million middle and high school students said they used e-cigarettes last year.

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