In the midst of a nationwide vaping-related illness epidemic that has resulted in at least eight deaths, Walmart has decided not to stop selling e-cigarettes, the company announced Friday.
In a statement, the company said that the lack of information regarding the health risks of e-cigarettes, as well as the increasingly complex regulations governing the industry, played a role in its decision to no longer sell them. “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 US locations,” it said in the statement. “We will complete our exit after selling through current inventory.”
Walmart’s decision to stop selling e-cigarettes comes amid an FDA and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) investigation into a slew of mysterious, vaping-related lung ailments. All of the patients had a history of e-cigarette use and presented symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
Approximately 530 cases of vaping-related illness have been reported in 38 states, according to an update from the CDC Thursday. At least eight people have died as a result, with the latest vaping-related death reported in Missouri.
While the cause of the vaping-related epidemic is unknown, some of the cases have involved black-market THC cartridges cut with vitamin E acetate, a substance most often used in skin cream that is extremely toxic if inhaled. Black-market THC vape cartridge manufacturers have been known to add vitamin E acetate as a thickening agent to vaping fluid, and three companies that sell such agents have been subpoenaed by the New York State Health Department.
In a call with reporters, Mitch Zeller, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products, denied that vitamin E acetate was the sole culprit behind the epidemic. “There’s no one compound, ingredient, constituent, including Vitamin E acetate that is showing up in all of the samples tested, and I’ll just need to leave it at that more general level,” he said on Thursday.
States like Michigan and New York have passed legislation banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, with Governor Andrew Cuomo banning the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes on Monday. President Donald Trump has also indicated that his administration was mulling a nationwide flavored e-cigarette ban. “We can’t allow people to get sick. And we can’t have our kids be so affected,” he told reporters last week.