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Walmart Raises Tobacco Buying Age, Discontinues Sale of Sweet Vaping Flavors

Moves in response to FDA warning include new training practices and disciplinary protocol
Photograph: Shutterstock

Walmart said it was changing the required age to purchase tobacco and vaping products to 21 and will discontinue the sale of  fruit- and dessert-flavored electronic nicotine-delivery systems. 

Walmart was among several retailers that received a letter last month from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noting a high percentage of alleged violations regarding sales of tobacco and vaping products to minors. The FDA sent similar letters to several retailers—including Kroger and various convenience, dollar, grocery, gasoline and big-box outlets—on April 5, with a request for written outlines on how these companies will work to solve the problem within 30 days. 

Walmart's new actions will go into place July 1 at Walmart and Sam's Club stores. The retailer said it also plans to use virtual reality training to enforce age verification. This will allow employees to experience a number of scenarios and practice appropriate responses. 

Additionally, Walmart implemented new disciplinary protocol last month for employees that failed secret-shopper checks.

Previously, the retailer disciplined employees for failed regulatory checks but used failed secret-shopper checks as an opportunity to "reeducate cashiers, reinforce training and provide individual instruction on the importance of age verification," John Scudder, Walmart's U.S. chief ethics and compliance officer, outlined in the retailer's response to the FDA letter. 

"Going forward, however, a cashier who fails a secret-shopper check will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination," he wrote, adding that the retailer will also be working on a stronger positive-reinforcement protocol for successful regulatory and secret-shopper checks. 

The retailer is also working to enhance its use of data, analytics and systems to more quickly identify "potential risks, trends and themes," according to Scudder. 

"We unequivocally acknowledge that even a single sale of a tobacco product to a minor is one too many, and we take seriously our responsibility in this regard," Scudder wrote, assuring the FDA that Walmart will remain focused on improving its compliance program and that any sale-to-minor violation will be properly handled and "viewed not as a cost of doing business but as a breach of trust with the customers."

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