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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced an agreement with Rite Aid under which the nation's third-largest drug store chain will implement new procedures to curb tobacco sales to minors in its 579 California stores, and 2,315 outlets in 19 other states and Washington D.C.
"Government and society have no higher priority than protecting the health and safety of our children," said Lockyer. "By entering this agreement, Rite Aid has made a commitment to do its best to ensure its stores do not help our kids travel down a deadly road."
The Rite Aid "Assurance of Voluntary Compliance" is the sixth agreement produced by an ongoing, multi-state enforcement effort which Lockyer has helped lead. Previous agreements cover all Wal-Mart and Walgreens stores, and all gas stations and convenience stores operating under the Exxon, Mobil, BP, ARCO and Amoco brand names in the signing states.
Combined, the agreements cover more than 40,000 retail outlets across the nation. They provide measures to reduce sales of tobacco products to minors by the nation's top retail chain (Wal-Mart), number one drug store chain (Walgreens) and largest oil company (ExxonMobil).
Launched in 2000, the multi-state enforcement effort by a group of 30 Attorneys General focuses on retailers with poor records of selling tobacco products to minors. State laws prohibit such sales. Undercover inspections showed minors were able to buy tobacco products at Rite Aid stores in California and other jurisdictions.
The enforcement program's goal is to secure the companies' agreement to take specific corrective actions. The agreements incorporate "best practices" to reduce sales to minors, developed by the Attorneys General in consultation with researchers, and state and federal tobacco control officials.
In the 2,894 affected stores, the agreement announced today requires Rite Aid to:<ul>
<li>Check the ID of any person purchasing tobacco products when the person appears to be under the age of 27, and accept only valid government-issued photo ID as proof of age.
</li><li>Use cash registers programmed to prompt ID checks on all tobacco sales.
</li><li>Prohibit self-service displays of certain tobacco products, the use of vending machines to sell tobacco products, distribution of free samples, and sale of cigarette look-alike products. The ban on self-service displays applies only to cigarettes, chewing tobacco and snuff.
</li><li>Prohibit the sale of smoking paraphernalia to minors.
</li><li>Hire an independent entity to conduct random compliance checks of approximately 12% of all Rite Aid stores in participating states every six months.
</li><li>Train employees on state and local laws and company policies regarding tobacco sales to minors, including explaining the health-related reasons for laws that restrict youth access to tobacco.</li></ul>
Lockyer and the other Attorneys General will monitor Rite Aid's compliance with the agreement, and can bring enforcement actions to remedy violations.
Lockyer and Attorneys General from the following states signed the Rite Aid agreement: Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont and Washington. The Corporation Counsel of Washington D.C. also signed the agreement.
The Attorneys General have long recognized that youth access to tobacco products ranks among the most serious public health problems. Studies show that more than 80 percent of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18. Research indicates that every day in the United States, more than 2,000 people under the age of 18 begin smoking and that one-third of those persons ultimately will 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.
In 1999, Lockyer established a full-time Tobacco Litigation and Enforcement Section to enforce California laws regarding the sale and marketing of tobacco products. The section also enforces the national Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), reached with tobacco companies in November 1998.
Californians who suspect violations of state tobacco laws or the MSA can file complaints by calling 916-565-6486 at any time, or by writing to the Tobacco Litigation and Enforcement Section at P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550. Additional information is available on the Attorney General's web site at http://www.ag.ca.gov/tobacco/.