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Post date: September 30 2003

Wal - Mart Enters Into Agreement To Curb Illegal Tobacco Sales To Minors

Attorney General Spitzer today announced an agreement with the nation's largest retailer to help prevent tobacco sales to minors.

As part of the multi-state agreement, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will implement reforms at thousands of facilities nationwide, including 95 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in New York.

"This agreement is the largest of its kind to date," Spitzer said. "It will have a significant impact in reducing youth access to tobacco products and serve as a model for all other retailers."

Under the agreement, Wal-Mart will:

  • Inform employees of state and local laws regarding tobacco sales to minors;

  • Train employees to check the identification of any person who appears to be under age 27, and accept only valid photo IDs as proof of age;

  • Use cash registers programmed to prompt ID checks on all tobacco sales;

  • Prohibit self-service displays of tobacco products, the use of vending machines to sell tobacco products, and the distribution of free samples on store property;

  • Prohibit the sale of all smoking paraphernalia to minors; and

  • Hire an independent entity to conduct random compliance checks of Wal-Mart stores.

In addition to implementing these reforms, Wal-Mart has agreed to pay $437,500 for the costs of state investigations.

In 2000, Spitzer's office began an investigation of retailers' compliance with laws that prohibit tobacco sales to minors. A survey of dozens of stores statewide - including Wal-Mart, Walgreens, gas station retailers and others - found rampant violations of the law. A follow-up survey in late 2001 produced similar results.

Both surveys identified Wal-Mart as one of the worst offenders. The 2000 survey showed that minors were able to purchase tobacco products more than 60 percent of the time; in the 2001 survey, minors were found to have been able to purchase tobacco products 56 percent of the time.

New York and other states entered into negotiations with various retailers, and in 2002 reached agreements with Walgreens, Exxon-Mobil, and BP-Amoco, requiring reforms to protect against tobacco sales to children.

In late 2002, a third survey of Wal-Mart stores was conducted. That survey showed that minors were able to purchase tobacco products 50 percent of the time.

New York, Maryland, Iowa and California then led negotiations with Wal-Mart which resulted in the retail giant agreeing to a series of reforms similar to the earlier agreements with the other retailers.

A total of 43 states are part of the Wal-Mart agreement.

Studies show that more than 80 percent of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18. Research indicates that more than 2,000 people under the age of 18 begin smoking every day in the United States and that one-third of those individuals will one day die from a tobacco-related disease. Young people are particularly susceptible to the hazards of tobacco, often showing signs of addiction after smoking only a few cigarettes.

Individuals wishing to report violations of state tobacco laws are encouraged to contact the Attorney General's consumer help line at (800) 771-7755.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Melvin Goldberg, Leslie Neustadt and Jane Azia of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau.