Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, will increase the minimum age to buy tobacco products, marking a big moment in the fight against teen nicotine addiction.
The company announced Wednesday it will stop selling tobacco or e-cigarettes products to anyone under the age of 21 in the United States. The changes will take effect July 1 at all American Walmart and Sam’s Club locations.
The company will also stop selling sweet-flavored e-cigarettes, which have become popular among teenagers.
The policy shift comes after Walmart received a letter from the US Food and Drug Administration for not fully prohibiting kids under 18 from buying tobacco products at its stores. The FDA conducted roughly 13,000 compliance checks since 2010 and said Walmart passed only 93% of them.
“While we have implemented a robust compliance program, we are not satisfied with falling short of our company-wide goal of 100% compliance,” the company wrote. “Even a single sale to a minor is one too many, and we take seriously our responsibilities in this regard.”
In March, the FDA warned several retailers, including Walmart, Kroger and Walgreens, they were violating rules against selling tobacco products to minors. The agency also labeled the use of e-cigarettes by young people as an “epidemic.”
In response, Walgreens said its stores will no longer sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21 starting September 1.
The FDA stipulates tobacco and e-cigarettes may only be sold to people 18 years or older. But several states have raised the age for legal sales to 21, including Illinois, Washington, Hawaii and California.
One in five high school students uses e-cigarettes, according to the surgeon general. Teen e-cigarette usage is soaring: The percentage of high school age children who say they used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days rose by more than 75% between 2017 and 2018, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.
In September, the FDA started a campaign to prevent kids from using e-cigarettes. It claims that nicotine use is hazardous to young adults’ health, even when inhaled with an e-cigarette.
The FDA was expected to ban e-cigarettes last year, but it instead pushed for e-cigarettes to be sold only in parts of stores that are closed-off to teenagers.