Convenience-store leader 7-Eleven Inc., the nation's largest cigarette retailer, has agreed to toughen its procedures to catch underage shoppers who try to buy tobacco products.
In a deal announced Thursday and covering stores in about 30 states, 7-Eleven agreed not to place tobacco signs next to products popular with minors, to ban vending machines for tobacco and remove outward-facing window signs for tobacco within 500 feet of schools or playgrounds.
According to a recent survey, a quarter of high school seniors said they smoke cigarettes, and tobacco is 7-Eleven's biggest-selling product, accounting for 29.1 percent of its sales in the United States and Canada last year.
The Dallas-based company also agreed to require a government-issued photo identification for any shopper who appears to be under 27. Spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said 7-Eleven agreed to use more young decoy shoppers to see if clerks ask for ID, and to pay the states $375,000 for tobacco-related public health and enforcement programs.
The agreement covers company-owned stores, but Chabris said 7-Eleven would ask its franchise operators to follow the same rules. Nearly two-thirds of 7-Elevens in the United States are operated by franchisees.
The 7-Eleven agreement is similar to deals that state officials have reached with other retailers since 2000, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Walgreen Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and other leading gas station operators.
State officials say they have focused on retailers with a record of selling tobacco products to minors, which is prohibited by state laws.
"These agreements have helped change the social norm in which it was easy for young people to purchase tobacco products," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "The significance of the 7-Eleven agreement depends on whether it extends to franchisees and whether it is strictly enforced by the corporate office."
Cigarette use among 8th-, 10th- and 12th-grade students has been declining since 1997, according to an annual study by the University of Michigan. Last year, 25 percent of all 12th graders reported smoking in the past month, compared to 36.5 percent in 1997, according to the researchers.
The Federal Trade Commission reported this week that major tobacco companies spent a record $15.15 billion marketing their products in 2003, an increase of 21.5 percent from the year before.
The 7-Eleven agreement was signed by officials from 40 states, including nine that don't have any 7-Eleven stores, and the District of Columbia.
7-Eleven has about 5,800 stores in the United States and Canada and owns, operates or franchises more than 27,000 stores worldwide. It had 2004 sales of $12.12 billion.