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State Accuses Walgreens of Cigarette Sales to Minors

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Eliot Spitzer

By Joyce Kryszak

Albany, NY – Walgreens drug stores Wednesday signed a settlement with New York State, agreeing to curb the sale of tobacco products to minors.

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer says the nation's largest drustore chain has agreed to self-imposed compliance checks to improve their track record of illegal sales to people under age 18. An investigation done by the attorney general's office found that Walgreens failed to ask for proof of age, as required by law, ninty percent of the time. Spitzer says all of the major drugstore chains throughout New York State were investigated - but Walgreens was by far the worst offender.

"They were not doing a good job in ensuring that children were checked, that people provided identification," Spitzer said. "If you were a child and wanted to buy cigarettes, the place to go was Walgreens. The easy place to go was Walgreens. You could get some confidence that you would not be carded. Indeed, the failure rate there was astonishing."

Spitzer says that settlements with other drugstore chains are pending. However, the others investigated faired much better -- failing to "card" minors in less than 50 percent of cases. The agreement with Walgreens requires them to reverse their poor record and bring compliance with the law to a 90 percent within six months.

The national chain, which operates 52 stores in New York State, also agreed to a cash settlement of $320,000 to cover investigation costs. Spitzer says the multi-state settlement continues a trend to crack down on the harmful reach of tobacco.

"There's clearly a focus now on ensuring compliance with the regs and laws that limit access to cigarettes on the part of children," he said. "And we are going to be vigorous in enforcing it."

Spitzer says stores that persist in violating the ID law could face steep fines, or even lose their license to sell tobacco products.