Critics are slamming Walmart for dropping vaping products while continuing to sell cigarettes, but the company may have just avoided a regulatory nightmare

In this Monday, June 17, 2019, photo, Joshua Ni, 24, and Fritz Ramirez, 23, vape from electronic cigarettes in San Francisco. San Francisco supervisors are considering whether to move the city toward becoming the first in the United States to ban all sales of electronic cigarettes in an effort to crack down on youth vaping. The plan would ban the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes, as well as prohibit e-cigarette manufacturing on city property. (AP Photo/Samantha Maldonado)

Associated Press

Walmart will stop selling e-cigarettes.

  • Walmart said Friday that it plans to stop selling all e-cigarettes and vaping products. 
  • Critics are questioning why Walmart would exit the e-cigarette category while continuing to sell traditional cigarettes.
  • Walmart's decision appears to be tied more to regulatory issues than health concerns, with an increasing number of lawmakers considering bans of vaping products. 
  • Additionally, vaping products are a relatively small category for Walmart, a spokesperson told Business Insider. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Walmart said Friday that it plans to stop selling all vaping products amid "regulatory complexity" and "uncertainty" around e-cigarettes.

The decision has prompted praise as well as some backlash on social media, with critics questioning why Walmart would exit the e-cigarette category while continuing to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products.
After all, e-cigarettes have been tied to eight deaths in the US, while traditional cigarettes are blamed for roughly 480,000 deaths per year nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

So how could Walmart remove e-cigarettes, when traditional cigarettes remain in stores? 

Let's break down Walmart's statement on 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 company said Friday. "We will complete our exit after selling through current inventory."

Read more: 'Don't vape. Don't use Juul': Juul CEO issues stark warning to nonsmokers as he admits long-term effects of vaping are unknown

This statement makes no explicit mention of health concerns. While questions around the health effects of vaping were undoubtedly considered as part of this move, the main driver behind this decision seems to be the threat of new regulations on the sales of e-cigarettes. 

Lawmakers are pushing to ban e-cigarettes

A group of senators sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration on Friday pushing the agency to ban e-cigarettes while it reviews their safety. President Donald Trump has proposed a nationwide ban on flavored e-cigarettes, and state and local officials are also considering varied regulations around e-cigarette sales. 

Complying with all these potential new laws could be a regulatory nightmare for Walmart, which has more than 5,300 stores in the US. 

Read more: San Francisco just banned e-cigarette sales, the first major US city to outlaw tobacco vapes

To top it all off, the e-cigarette market is relatively small for Walmart, a Walmart spokesperson told Business Insider. 

In the end, Walmart likely determined that any lost sales aren't worth the potential regulatory headache associated with continuing to sell e-cigarettes.

If that's the case, then exiting the e-cigarette category was more of a business decision for Walmart than a political statement for or against the vaping industry and the health effects of its products.

Walmart is also taking measures to restrict cigarette sales

This isn't meant to suggest that Walmart is unconcerned with the health effects of e-cigarettes or traditional cigarettes. The company has taken some recent actions restricting the sales of both.
In July Walmart raised the minimum age for tobacco purchases from 18 years old to 21 years old.

The company also announced in May that it would discontinue the sale of fruit- and dessert-flavored e-cigarettes, which research shows are preferred by minors. At the same time, Walmart announced employee training programs designed to prevent the sale of tobacco products to minors. 

To some critics, however, that's not enough. And now that Walmart has announced it will stop selling e-cigarettes, they are pushing the company to drop all tobacco products.


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