Pharmacy retail giant Walgreens plans to implement a new minimum age requirement of 21 for its customers seeking to purchase tobacco products in its stores.
The new policy will go into effect in September at all of its more than 9,500 stores, the company said in an announcement Tuesday.
“We’ve seen positive results from other recent efforts to strengthen our policies related to tobacco sales, and believe this next step can be even more impactful to reduce its use among teens and young adults,” said Richard Ashworth, Walgreens president of operations, in a statement. “Through ongoing training and certification for pharmacists and technicians, we also continue to help and support people looking to quit the use of tobacco in their lives.”
The new "Tobacco 21" policy is among other steps Walgreens has taken including the implementation of a "Card All" policy which requires ID verification regardless of age on all tobacco sales in its stores.
It's the latest win in a nationwide push by health advocates to raise the legal age for tobacco consumption to 21. Several states, as well as the District of Columbia, have already passed legislation raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco to 21. Research has found raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco has a marked impact on smoking among young people ages 18 to 20 as evidenced by the experience in Chicago.
The efforts have gained unlikely support from Altria, which is the parent company for several tobacco companies including Philip Morris USA.
But it's a far cry short of the move made by CVS in 2014 to stop sales of all tobacco products at its stores, saying it "conflicted with our purpose of helping people on their path to better health." It was part of a broader shift by CVS to brand itself as a healthcare company that has since been followed by CVS' $69 billion acquisition of insurer Aetna late last year.
Walgreens Boots Alliance has been making its own moves to establish its presence in the broader healthcare industry, partnering with diagnostics giant LabCorp to open at least 600 testing centers inside Walgreens retail locations over several years. Earlier this year, they also announced plans with Microsoft Corp. to develop new healthcare delivery models, including technology and retail innovations to disrupt the healthcare delivery space.
Earlier this month, Walgreens said it would partner with VillageMD, a national provider of primary care based in Chicago, to open five new 2,500-square-foot primary care clinics next to Walgreens stores in the Houston area, with plans to possibly expand there and in other markets.
The problem of youth smoking, in particular, has been of increasing concern to federal authorities as the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes has fueled an epidemic of smoking among young people.
Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb made fighting the use of e-cigarettes by children one of his priorities, saying at an event last month he feared youth tobacco use would reach unprecedented levels.
"You'll be at levels of tobacco use among children in this country of 40% to 45%. That's simply intolerable," Gottlieb said during the event at The Brookings Institution. "I went back and looked at data going back to 1950, and we haven't seen that level of use of tobacco among kids. The e-cigarettes are tobacco products, and nicotine is addictive, and it does have direct effects on the developing brain of a child. … All the dramatic gains we've made in reducing smoking rates in this country, particularly among young people, will be reversed as a result of these products."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has said he plans to introduce legislation to raise the age to buy tobacco products, including vaping devices, from 18 to 21, the Hill reported.