By Aisha Al-Muslim 

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Rite Aid Corp. are raising the minimum age required for customers to buy tobacco products in their stores to 21, up from 18 in most states, as the drugstore chains face pressure over their cigarette sales from federal regulators, activists and some investors.

The new chainwide policy for Walgreens will start Sept. 1, the company said Tuesday. Walgreens's move is its most recent step in its effort to further prevent youth access to tobacco products, including a policy implemented last October that requires verification regardless of age, the company said.

"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," Richard Ashworth, Walgreens president of operations, said in a statement.

Separately, Rite-Aid said Tuesday its policy raising the cigarette-buying age would go into effect for all stores within three months. The company had previously said it would remove e-cigarettes and vaping products from its stores.

The new policies come as the efforts are under way in a number of states to raise the legal age to use tobacco to 21. Currently, about a dozen states have raised the tobacco buying age to 21, along with at least 450 localities, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an antitobacco nonprofit.

While Walgreens continues to sell cigarettes in the vast majority of its 9,600 U.S. stores, the chain has been testing some tobacco-free stores and is encouraging employees in others to offer aids to quit smoking to customers buying cigarettes. The pharmacy chain has also reduced the visibility of tobacco products in some stores.

Unlike CVS Health Corp., which stopped selling tobacco products in 2014, Walgreens has continued to sell cigarettes, electronic cigarettes and other tobacco products in most of its stores, drawing criticism from federal regulators, lawmakers as well as activists who say that tobacco products don't belong in a health store.

In February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called out the company out for being a top violator among pharmacies illegally selling tobacco products to minors. In response, Walgreens said that it has a zero-tolerance policy on selling tobacco to minors and any employee violating its policy is subject to termination.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he planned to introduce legislation raising the national minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 from 18. Mr. McConnell's announcement comes as Congress is also studying legislation aimed at curbing the surge in teen vaping.

Altria Group Inc. and British American Tobacco PLC, the two biggest U.S. cigarette manufacturers, as well as e-cigarettes maker Juul Labs Inc., all support raising the legal smoking age to 21. The hope is that the move would curb underage smoking and the use of e-cigarettes among youths.

Walgreens doesn't sell tobacco products at a test store in Deerfield, Ill., near its headquarters, as well as 17 stores in Gainesville, Fla., as part of a 12- to 18-month pilot program it started last year. It also doesn't sell cigarettes in Massachusetts, New York City and San Francisco, which have banned pharmacies from selling them. Outside North America, the company's Boots pharmacies don't sell tobacco products.

Write to Aisha Al-Muslim at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 23, 2019 20:37 ET (00:37 GMT)

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