Knockoff pot vapes raise concerns for licensed companies

FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, file photo, a guest takes a puff of a cannabis vape pen during a marijuana event in downtown Los Angeles. A short walk from police headquarters in the heart of downtown, a cluster of bustling shops are openly selling packaging and hardware that can be used to produce counterfeit, and potentially dangerous, marijuana vapes that have infected California's cannabis market and possibly sickened dozens of people.

Walmart said Friday that it will stop selling electronic cigarettes at its namesake stores and Sam's Clubs following a string of mysterious illnesses and deaths related to vaping.

The nation's largest retailer, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, said that it will complete its exit from e-cigarettes after selling through its current inventory.

The move is due to "growing federal, state and local regulatory complexity" regarding vaping products, the company said in a statement.

President Donald Trump has proposed a federal ban on flavored e-cigarettes and vaping products.

Michigan banned the sale of flavored e-cigarettes this week. A few local governments, including San Francisco, have passed bans on flavored tobacco.

E-cigarettes represent a very small part of Walmart's nicotine business, which also includes traditional cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and nicotine gum. But the vaping industry has come under increased scrutiny after the deaths and illnesses — along with a surge in underage e-cigarette use.

More than 500 people have been diagnosed with breathing illnesses after using e-cigarettes and other vaping devices, according to U.S. health officials. An eighth death was reported this week. But health officials still have not identified the cause.

In July, Walmart raised the minimum age to purchase tobacco products, including all e-cigarettes, to 21. It also said then that it was in the process of discontinuing the sale of fruit- and dessert-flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems.

The decision from America's largest retailer may influence other stores and marks a significant blow to the vaping industry.

"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," the company said in a statement. "We will complete our exit after selling through current inventory."

The eighth person in the United States died Thursday from lung disease related to vaping, according to Missouri health officials.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and state health departments have been investigating this outbreak.

Vaping-related illnesses have been linked to seven previous deaths — two in California and one each in Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Oregon. CDC health officials said on Thursday they expect more deaths to be reported.

This story will be updated.

What we know (and don't) about Juul, teen vaping and illness

States reporting at least one confirmed or probable case to the CDC. Data current as of Sept. 17.

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