It was a routine trip to CVS: vitamins and nail polish remover. At self-checkout, I scanned in the nail polish remover and something odd happened.
There was an error message on the screen and a slip of paper printed out that read, “Products containing acetone/iodine cannot be purchased at the self checkout. Please see associate for assistance.”
The saleslady overseeing self-checkout sprang into action and walked over to the register clucking, “New state laws, driving us crazy.” Another sales associate chimed in, “Meth,” and shook her head.
The saleslady asked for my ID. I pulled out my driver’s license. To my surprise, she scanned it into the computer.
How long had it been since I'd bought nail polish remover? Two years? Three? How did I miss this? I’ve been buying nail polish remover since I was probably 13, and painting my nails since I was 8 (quite skillfully, according to my mom).
“What happens if you don’t have a driver’s license?” I asked.
The sales associate shrugged, shook her head and said, “Can’t buy it.” My 13-year-old self cringed.
When I got home, I googled around and couldn’t find any state or federal laws pertaining to retail sales of acetone or iodine.
I also noticed that my new bottle of nail polish remover was considerably larger than my empty bottle. The CVS brand had grown from 6 ounces to 10, which seemed a little ironic under the circumstances.
Emails to the state and federal government turned up little information.
Massachusetts Department of Public Health spokeswoman Anne Roach wrote: “It is not a state law, regulation or recommendation. It may be a store policy.”
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokesman Christopher Kelly replied:
“We are not aware of any FDA specific regulation of iodine or acetone sales other than those generally in place for all active or inactive ingredients in approved products.”
He suggested I ask CVS whether the policy was “related to decreasing access to acetone to those under 18 because of increasing reports on the risks associated with youths ‘huffing’ acetone. There have been several deaths reported doing this.”
CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis offered some clarity. He acknowledged it’s a store policy – not dictated by federal law, but guided by it. He wrote:
“We are in the process of implementing this chainwide, beginning a few weeks ago. We had already been requiring ID in states where you must be at least 18 to purchase acetone products.”
He referred me to the definitions section of the Controlled Substances Act, which categorizes acetone and iodine as “list II chemicals.”
As a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration put it to me over the phone, “list II chemicals” have many legitimate uses, but can be used to make controlled substances. And retail sales of list II chemicals are not regulated by the DEA in any special way.
In this case, acetone and iodine are – as the CVS sales associate rightly remarked – used to make meth.
So why would this years-old categorization result in a new policy?
DeAngelis replied, “We regularly review our policies and procedures and update or revise them as necessary.”
He also clarified that there’s no actual age limit for nail polish remover purchases. However, the photo ID would seem to draw the line at anyone not old enough to have a driver’s license.
So that’s it kids. You can buy your nail polish at CVS, but you’ll have to buy your nail polish remover at Walgreens. (It’s cool, I checked.)
Readers, reactions? Do you welcome or question this new tactic in fighting the looming threat posed by nail polish remover?
This program aired on August 7, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.