October 9, 2019

Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens to stop selling e-cigarette products

Daily Briefing

    Major retailers—including Kroger, Walgreens, and Walmart—have announced that they will stop selling e-cigarettes, amid growing uncertainty about the products' safety.

    Background: Vaping illness cases top 1,000

    CDC data updated Thursday shows the number of reported cases of a lung illness linked to e-cigarette used and vaping has risen to 1,080, with 18 reported deaths. Cases of the illness have been reported in 46 states and one U.S. territory, with deaths reported in 15 states.

    CDC said a majority of patients with the illness have reported using products containing the compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the high-inducing chemical found in marijuana. However, investigators said they are not yet narrowing the scope of their probe.

    Anne Schuchat—CDC's principal deputy director, who is overseeing the agency's investigation into the matter—said CDC recommends that people abstain from vaping products, and particularly products that use THC. "We really have the feeling right now that there might be a lot of different, nasty things in e-cigarette or vaping products," she said.

    Major retailers say they'll stop selling e-cigarettes

    Over the past few weeks, Kroger, Walgreens, and Walmart all have announced that they will stop selling e-cigarette products.

    Walmart in a memo issued last month said it will stop selling e-cigarettes at all U.S. Walmart and Sam's Club locations because of "regulatory complexity and uncertainty" around the products. The retailer said it will officially stop selling the products "after selling through current inventory."

    Similarly, Kroger on Monday said it will no longer sell e-cigarettes at its 2,700 stores and 1,500 fuel centers once it clears its current inventory. The retailer in a statement said it is "discontinuing the sale of … e-cigarettes … due to the mounting questions and increasingly-complex regulatory environment associated with these products."

    Walgreens on Monday also announced it will stop selling e-cigarette products at its 10,000 U.S. stores, noting health agencies' investigations into the vaping-linked lung illness. The company said the decision also is "reflective of developing regulations in a growing number of states and municipalities."

    According to Forbes, Walgreens also is considering whether to stop selling traditional tobacco products. Kroger did not say whether it will stop selling traditional cigarettes, The Hill reports.

    CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo said CVS Pharmacy has never sold e-cigarettes and, in June, the company and Aetna Foundation announced more than $10 million in funding to support youth smoking and e-cigarette prevention strategies. CVS stopped selling all tobacco products, including combustible cigarettes, in 2014.

    Rite Aid in April also announced that it was halting e-cigarette sales in its stores, citing increasing youth use of the products.

    Implications

    The moves come after many retailers earlier this year set a minimum age of 21 to purchase any tobacco products, reflective of developing regulations that aim to decrease tobacco use among youth.

    The retailers have joined companies such as CBS, WarnerMedia, and Viacom that have cut ties with the e-cigarette industry, The Hill reports (Coleman, The Hill, 10/7; Balu/Naidu, Reuters, 10/7; Jaspen, Forbes, 10/7; Nassauer, Wall Street Journal, 9/20; LaVito/Reagan, CNBC, 9/20; Borney, USA Today, 10/7).

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