Starting in July, people under the age of 21 will no longer be able to buy tobacco products from Walmart or Sam’s Club stores in the United States
Walmart Inc. announced on Wednesday that it would be raising the minimum age for buying the products on July 1, making it the latest retailer to make changes regarding tobacco sales to minors. Walmart’s move comes after a letter from the Food and Drug Administration last month that requested it to submit a plan to end illegal tobacco sales to minors.
Walmart will also no longer sell “fruit- and dessert-flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems” like Juuls and other devices for vaping, according to the company’s announcement.
Other retailers have also recently changed their policies around the sale of tobacco products to minors. Walgreens will stop selling them to customers under 21 in September, while Rite Aid announced in April it would remove e-cigarettes from its stores over the next 90 days. For its part, CVS stopped selling tobacco products in 2014. Several states have also moved to raise the minimum smoking age.
Last month Senator Mitch McConnell — who has been a big supporter of the tobacco industry — said he would introduce a bill to raise the minimum age to 21 to buy tobacco and e-cigarette products. Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said he was motivated by the popularity of vaping among teenagers and young adults.
In a letter to the F.D.A., Walmart said that since 2010 the agency had conducted 12,800 retailer compliance checks involving minors at Walmart and Sam’s Club stores, with the stores passing 93 percent and 99 percent of the checks. Last year, Walmart stores passed 94 percent of more than 2,400 checks, and Sam’s Club stores passed all of its 15 checks.
In response, Walmart said it was also going to reinforce its age verification training using virtual-reality technology to “reduce the likelihood of sales of age-restricted products to minors.”
The F.D.A. also sent letters to 15 other big retailers, including Family Dollar Stores and Kroger, over concerns about illegal sales of tobacco products to minors.
E-cigarettes and vaping are among the latest iteration of tobacco products to attract teenagers and young adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarettes “have the potential to benefit adult smokers who are not pregnant if used as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products,” but they are not safe for youths.
The C.D.C. reported in February that the use of electronic tobacco products increased by 38 percent last year among high school students and by 29 percent among middle school students. Out of four million high school students and 840,000 middle school students currently using any tobacco product, e-cigarettes were the most commonly used.
Tobacco and vaping companies have supported calls to restrict sales to youths, partly in an apparent effort to distance themselves from the accusation that the main demographic they market to is young people. Altria, Juul and the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company all have said they support increasing the minimum age.
But the companies have fought back on efforts to limit flavored tobacco products popular with teenagers, experts say.
Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Virginia, as well as hundreds of metropolitan areas including New York, Chicago, San Antonio, Boston, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Washington, have made it illegal for those under 21 to buy tobacco products.