Feb. 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration filed complaints against Walgreens and Circle K to stop the sale of tobacco products at two of the stores' locations.
The FDA seeks to bar a Walgreens pharmacy in Miami, Fla., and a Circle K convenience store in Charleston, S.C., from selling tobacco products for 30 days. The agency said in a news release it was asking for the No-Tobacco-Sale Orders, or NTSOs, because of "violations of restrictions on the sale and distribution of tobacco products, including sales of cigars and menthol cigarettes to minors."
Of the inspected Walgreens stores, the FDA said 22 percent of locations sold tobacco products to minors. The agency said Walgreens "is currently the top violator among pharmacies that sell tobacco products."
By comparison, about 18 percent of Walmart stores, 14 percent of Dollar General stores and about 10 percent of Rite Aid stores had similar violations, the FDA said.
The complaints follow more than 1,500 warning letters and 240 civil money penalty actions the FDA sought against Walgreens stores nationwide for illegal tobacco sales to minors.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement he would meet with Walgreens' corporate management to discuss whether non-compliance "is a corporate-wide issue."
He added that he would put Walgreens "on notice" of enforcement action to address non-compliance.
"We all share the important responsibility of keeping harmful and addictive tobacco products out of the hands of kids," Gottlieb said. "Retailers in particular -- especially those who position themselves as health-and-wellness-minded businesses -- are on the frontlines of these efforts and must take that legal obligation seriously. I'm also deeply disturbed that a single pharmacy chain racked up almost 1,800 violations for selling tobacco products to minors across the country."
This is the first NTSO complaint against a Walgreens store, the FDA said.
The NTSO action against Circle K is not the convenience store chain's first, but the FDA said it "marks the first time" the agency lodged a NTSO complaint against it for selling cigars to minors
The agency has issued more than 1,045 warning letters and 205 civil money penalty actions to retailers doing business as Circle K for sales to minors since 2010.
The FDA can pursue NTSOs against retail outlets that commit five or more violations in 36 months. After an NTSO is initiated, the retailer generally has 30 days to respond to the allegations.