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At that, the customer stalked toward the exit, screaming obscenities and giving the clerk the finger on his way out the door.
According to cashiers, that seems to be the most common reaction to Walgreens' latest policy on the sale of tobacco: At some stores, everyone buying cigarettes is being asked for ID to prove he is over 18.
The root of such customer outrage is Walgreens' settlement of a lawsuit originally filed by the attorney general of Missouri and soon joined by attorneys general from 39 other states. The suit accused three chain stores, including Walgreens, of selling tobacco to minors. So now, after signing a voluntary agreement to settle the dispute in February, Walgreens has decided to leave no stone unturned and is requiring "government-issued IDs" from customers of all ages.
As a part of the settlement, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer demanded identification of all customers who appear to be under the age of 27, but clearly nervous store managers aren't taking any chances. Unfortunately, no two stores seem to agree on how old a customer should look before he can legally buy a pack of smokes.
"We're carding everyone who looks under 40," explains Norman Villarent, the manager of Walgreens' First and Mission store. "We've really been bad with selling cigarettes up to now and are trying to make sure everyone shows identification."
Walgreens also requires employees to watch an instructional video, though apparently the training left a little to be desired, because even carding everyone who looked middle-aged wasn't helping.
"The truth is, we started out by identifying anyone who looked under 40," explains Sherri Cookson, a Walgreens store manager we spoke with at another site, "but the problem was that government watch groups kept insisting that we were still selling to minors." How could that be? "I guess no one could say what looks 40."
So now many stores are carding everyone. That way, says Michael Polzin, in Walgreens' corporate communications office, "Our cashiers don't need to make any judgment calls on the age of a person, and [the policy] puts them in the habit of checking the age of any person so that they don't forget to do it for someone. That makes it much more definitive that minors won't be able to purchase cigarettes."
To soothe customers outraged by yet another indignity to smokers, Walgreens now passes out slips of paper to cigarette buyers that read: "We are sorry our tobacco policy has inconvenienced you. We strive to be a more responsible retailer, and are committed to complying with tobacco laws in order to prevent tobacco sales to minors. We believe customers would be more inconvenienced if we weren't able to sell any tobacco products because of a violation of the law."
But the apology doesn't seem to be working. Recently, while waiting in line at Walgreens, we watched in amazement as, one by one, incensed customers left in protest, each exiting with a warning of doom to Walgreens about this new policy. Taking their lead, we marched to the cashier and decided that we too will not give in to this kind of corporate cowardice. We firmly resolved that, like the others, we will not buy cigarettes here -- and a good thing, too, because we forgot our ID.
— Andrea Renee Goode