Walmart will stop selling e-cigarettes because of “regulatory complexity and uncertainty” surrounding the products. CNBC reported on an internal company memo about the change, and Walmart confirmed the news in a statement.
“Given the growing federal, state and local regulatory complexity and uncertainty regarding e-cigarettes, we plan to discontinue the sale of electronic nicotine delivery products at all Walmart and Sam’s Club U.S. locations,” says the statement. “We will complete our exit after selling through current inventory.”
Walmart’s decision comes soon after US health officials announced the eighth death due to a mysterious vaping-related lung illness. The first death was reported in August. Since then, several media companies have pulled vaping ads, and policymakers have begun to tighten restrictions in the US and elsewhere. Yesterday, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a bill to ban e-cigarette flavors other than tobacco and apply new taxes to the products.
Walmart stopped selling fruit-flavored e-cigarette products earlier this year, and it raised the minimum age for buying tobacco products to 21. E-cigarettes have been promoted as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes, but dessert-like flavors have been blamed for enticing teenagers into vaping.
The lung illness, however, is related to e-cigarettes in general. In fact, it’s not clear precisely what’s causing it. Since the start of this year’s vaping-related deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that people “consider refraining from using e-cigarette or vaping products” — although if they used vaping products to quit smoking, they shouldn’t switch back to cigarettes.
While the rules around cigarettes are well-established, vaping has occupied a more nebulous position, and it’s not surprising that a company like Walmart could find that disconcerting. Walmart declined to say whether it might restart selling e-cigarettes if new legislation is passed or health inspectors offer more information about the recent illnesses.