Walmart Is Getting in on the War on Vapes, and It Could Backfire Badly

"It is absurd that Walmart would stop selling e-cigarettes but continue to sell real ones, which kill 400,000 Americans each year."
Left Image: Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images. Right Image: Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Walmart is getting good at this.

After all, it was only weeks ago—long after the Columbine and Pulse and Parkland shootings, among so many others—that the biggest retailer in the country announced it would limit sales of some kinds of ammo, though guns would still be available. And it was only this past spring that the chain said it would stop selling cigarettes to any customer under the age of 21.

Now, the megastore has revealed it will no longer be carrying e-cigarettes.


"Given the growing federal, state, and local regulatory complexity and uncertainty regarding e-cigarettes, we plan to discontinue the sale of electronic nicotine," the company said in a statement, according to the New York Times.

The company isn't exactly going out on a limb here. Cities like San Francisco and states like Michigan and New York have moved to ban some or all e-cigarettes. Even President Trump has urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to impose some sort of prohibition in the wake of hundreds of people coming down with an apparently vape-related disease. (Eight deaths have been attributed it to so far.)

But experts who have already expressed skepticism about supply-side, war on drugs–style interventions to a health problem that may stem from counterfeit or black-market vapes were once again left scratching their heads Friday.

"It is absurd that Walmart would stop selling e-cigarettes but continue to sell real ones, which kill 400,000 Americans each year," said Michael Siegel, a professor of community health services at Boston University. "And they continue to sell guns, which kill 36,000 people each year. So far, there has never been a confirmed death from e-cigarettes."

The most cynical take here, of course, is that Walmart might be looking to get ahead of a developing crisis, even though no definitive cause has been identified for the spike of vape-related illnesses to overtake the country in recent months. (At the time of publication, Walmart had not responded to a request for comment.) Many, but not all, of the 500-plus suspected cases of vape-related illness have been linked to THC products, and some experts believe that a cause of these illnesses could be amateurs experimenting at home or purchasing counterfeit pods and e-juice from an unlicensed retailer.

But that black market might only be boosted if governments and blue-chip retailers like Walmart block out customers.

Indeed, tales in the news about dubious, off-brand vape products are beginning to look an awful lot like drug seizures: Last week, Customs and Border Protection officials reportedly seized 500-plus illicit pods in Philadelphia, and the New York Times published an article about two middle-class, suburban brothers who allegedly operated an underground THC oil and vaping operation at their condominium in Wisconsin.

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