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CVS reaches agreement on tobacco sales

/ Source: The Associated Press

CVS Corp. has reached an agreement with 42 states and the District of Columbia by promising to strengthen practices that keep minors from buying tobacco products.

Under the voluntary settlement, the pharmacy chain agreed to check the identities of customers who attempt to purchase tobacco products if they look younger than 27.

CVS officials also agreed not to use self-service displays or vending machines to sell tobacco products and to train employees on state and local laws regulating tobacco sales.

The Woonsocket-based company also must hire an independent monitor to check its compliance at 5,400 stores nationwide. CVS officials did not disclose the cost of implementing the agreement.

Although the agreement isn't an admission of wrongdoing, CVS officials signed it to head off legal action threatened by several states for past violations, company spokesman Mike DeAngelis said.

Prosecutors can still bring legal action if the company fails to adhere to the settlement.

"This is something much more amenable to both parties. At the end of the day, we both share the same goal of preventing the sale of tobacco to people underaged," DeAngelis said.

Cash registers at the stores will be reconfigured so they prompt clerks to check a customer's age before completing tobacco sales, DeAngelis said.

The agreement, under negotiation for months, was formally announced Wednesday. It mirrors similar consent settlements state authorities have reached with other retailers, including 7-Eleven, Wal-Mart, and Walgreens.

"By agreeing to take these specific, corrective actions, CVS is stepping up and being a good corporate citizen," said Mike Healey, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Attorney General's office.

CVS separately agreed on Monday to pay up to $200,000 to settle complaints brought by Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly.

Reilly's office took legal action against the pharmacy after it continued to use self-service displays for tobacco products that were banned in a 1998 agreement.

His office also accused the retailer of selling tobacco to 13 percent of minors who participated in stings during 2004 and 2005.

"CVS has continued to let children buy tobacco and that is simply unacceptable," Reilly said in a statement.