Business

FDA takes Casey's, other chains to task for alleged tobacco sales to minors

Agency seeks 'detailed' response within 30 days

“Violating the law preventing sales of tobacco products to minors, and paying associated fines and penalties, should not simply be viewed as a cost of doing business,” then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote to Casey's and other retailers. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
“Violating the law preventing sales of tobacco products to minors, and paying associated fines and penalties, should not simply be viewed as a cost of doing business,” then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote to Casey's and other retailers. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Ankeny-based Casey’s General Store was among a dozen companies nationwide to receive letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration calling out what the agency called a “violative history” of illegal tobacco sales to minors.

In the letters, dated April 5, then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb asked the chains to write back within 30 days with a “detailed plan” and time frames for reducing the sales to minors.

“Violating the law preventing sales of tobacco products to minors, and paying associated fines and penalties, should not simply be viewed as a cost of doing business,” Gottlieb wrote. “The stakes are too high for our young people and our country’s decadeslong fight to reduce the morbidity and mortality that accompanies tobacco product use.”

The letter to Casey’s President and CEO Terry Handley called the retailer’s “violative history ... disturbing and (it) cannot come as a surprise to corporate leadership.”

Gottlieb resigned as FDA commissioner the same day as the letters were sent.

A Casey’s representative did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Asked whether Casey’s or any of the other companies already had submitted corrective plans, a spokesman for the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products on Wednesday said he didn’t “have any information to share.”

Casey’s is the only Iowa company among those that received FDA letters. Among the other recipients were 7-Eleven, BP, ExxonMobil, Family Dollar Stores and Walmart.

Each letter says the companies illegally sold tobacco products to minors at over 15 percent of their stores that were inspected since the FDA began its retailer compliance check program in 2010.

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Casey’s General Store had a violation rate of about 26 percent, according to its FDA letter. Of the recipient companies, Walmart had the lowest violation rate, at 17 percent, while Marathon had the highest rate, at 41 percent.

Though the letter does not expressly state Casey’s could face further action, Gottlieb noted the FDA previously had taken “vigorous enforcement actions” to prevent unlawful tobacco sales to minors. These actions can include civil money penalties and no-tobacco-sale orders against stores.

An online search of FDA inspections shows the agency fined a Casey’s store at 5655 C Street SW in Cedar Rapids $559 in early December 2018 in connection with three tobacco violations within a 24-month period. The agency also sent a warning letter to the Casey’s store at 9125 Atlantic Drive SW, also in Cedar Rapids, in June of the same year, following its alleged sale of cigarettes to minors. Property records show Casey’s owns both stores.

Casey’s operates more than 2,000 stores in 16 states, according to its website.

Tobacco, including cigarettes and other tobacco products, composed 34.1 percent of the $237 billion convenience stores received from in-store product sales in 2017, the highest percentage for any in-store product that year, according to data from the National Association of Convenience Stores.

While cigarette use declined among minors nationwide this past year, e-cigarette use among middle and high school students has “increased alarmingly” since 2017, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 50 middle schoolers and about two of every 25 high school students reported using a cigarette in 2018.

However, one in every 20 middle school students and nearly one in five high school students reported using an e-cigarette that same year.

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The 2018 Iowa Youth Survey reported about 22 percent of 11th-grade students in the state currently were using e-cigarettes.

About 37 percent of those students reported they had used the product before.

Gazette reporter Michaela Ramm contributed to this article.

• Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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