AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and 42 state attorneys general reached an agreement with Kroger Co. to halt underage tobacco sales. Under the agreement announced today, that nation's largest grocery chain must implement comprehensive in-store programs to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to minors.

“This agreement will help ensure minors do not have access to tobacco in Texas and across the nation, said Attorney General Abbott. “Protecting Texas children is our top priority. We will continue working with retailers, parents and others to improve the health, safety and well-being of our future generations.

The settlement, which was filed in Travis County District Court, will impact more than 2,400 supermarkets in 31 states and 779 convenience stores in 15 states. Kroger will implement a comprehensive employee training program to ensure that no minors purchase tobacco products. The chain has agreed to employ a cutting edge electronic age verification system. Among the system's benefits is its ability to disable a cash register when the sale of a tobacco product is recorded. This will ensure the clerk has the opportunity and takes the time to verify the purchaser's age. The company must also post conspicuous notices reading “We Card Under 30.

The settlement also prohibits Kroger from displaying self-serve kiosks, vending machines, free samples and cigarette look-alike products. To ensure compliance with this agreement, Kroger will hire an independent firm that will employ undercover minors who will arrive at stores unannounced and attempt to purchase tobacco products. When and if a minor successfully purchases tobacco, store managers must take steps to correct these errors.

The Attorney General has secured 10 similar agreements with several other major retailers, including national retail outlets Chevron, CVS Pharmacy, Conoco Phillips 7-Eleven, Wal-Mart, BP Amoco, Walgreen Drug Stores and Exxon Mobil.

Studies show more than 80 percent of regular adult smokers began smoking as children, and every day it is estimated that 2,000 children begin smoking cigarettes. The earlier in life a person begins smoking, the more difficult it is for him or her to quit later in life, and the consequences are tobacco-related diseases and death. More than 400,000 Americans die each year from diseases caused by tobacco use.