The fallout over the spate of vaping-linked deaths continued on Friday, as Walmart announced that it will stop selling e-cigarettes.
In a memo to local managers, the world’s largest retailer cited “regulatory complexity” and industry “uncertainty” as its reasoning behind the decision.
“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,” the memo said. “We will complete our exit after selling through current inventory.”
The move is just the latest bit of blowback for an e-cigarette industry that finds itself under increasing scrutiny for products that have been linked to hundreds of hospitalizations and a disquieting rise in deaths.
E-cigarettes have long been billed as a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes, but the sudden uptick in vaping-related illnesses has cast considerable doubt on those claims.
Walmart’s announcement on Friday represents a significant setback for the vaping industry, which has in recent weeks drawn the attention of the federal government.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a rebuke to the popular e-cigarette company Juul Labs for making unauthorized claims that its product is “much safer than cigarettes” and that its approval from the FDA is imminent.
““Referring to your [electronic nicotine delivery system, or “ENDS,”] products as ‘99% safer’ than cigarettes, ‘much safer’ than cigarettes, ‘totally safe,’ and ‘a safer alternative than smoking cigarettes’ is particularly concerning because these statements were made directly to children in school,” the FDA said in its letter to Juul Labs. “Our concern is amplified by the epidemic rate of increase in youth use of ENDS products, including JUUL’s products, and evidence that ENDS products contribute to youth use of, and addiction to, nicotine, to which youth are especially vulnerable.”
The company apparently made those claims in presentations to students — underscoring concerns that e-cigarettes have been inappropriately marketed to young people. Those same concerns prompted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week to call for a demand on flavored e-cigarette products, which are viewed as particularly appealing to young people.
The Trump administration has likewise announced its intention to crack down on flavored e-cigarettes, saying earlier this month that such products would be subject to much more intense regulatory scrutiny.
“We can’t have our kids be so affected,” President Trump said in a press conference earlier this month.
Experts have said that some of the risks posed by e-cigarettes remain unknown, and the cases of those apparently affected continue to be investigated. There are more than 450 cases of vaping-related illnesses that are currently being investigated. On Thursday, the state of Missouri announced that a resident there died from a severe lung illness that was attributed to his vaping use. He was the eighth person in the United States whose death was linked to e-cigarettes.
It also remains unclear whether there are specific products to blame. Some of the illnesses and deaths have been linked to products containing only nicotine, while others have contained marijuana. It also appears that some of the individuals adversely affected procured their e-cigarettes from street dealers, rather than major retailers like Walmart.