BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Walmart said Friday it will stop selling e-cigarettes as the number of deaths tied to vaping grows and public officials crack down on the industry.
The decision by America's largest retailer may influence other stores and marks another setback for the vaping industry. Walmart said it's exiting the business because of regulatory flux. CBS, Viacom and CNN parent company WarnerMedia also announced this week they would prohibit e-cigarette advertisements on their networks.
"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."
For Walmart, the move is another illustration of the company's willingness to wade into controversial issues. Earlier this month, Walmart announced it would stop selling handgun ammunition and ammunition commonly used in military-style assault weapons, as well as discourage customers from openly carrying guns at stores.
Halting the sale of e-cigarettes is also Walmart's latest major decision in restricting the availability of tobacco.
Earlier this year, Walmart raised the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21. The changes took effect July 1 at all US Walmart and Sam's Club locations. The company said at the time that it would stop selling sweet-flavored e-cigarettes, which have become popular among teenagers.
The vaping industry has experienced rapid growth. Euromonitor International, a research firm, estimated it will be worth $34 billion globally by 2021, up 176% from 2016. Last year, Altria, America's preeminent cigarette company, took a 35% stake in e-cigarette maker Juul, worth $12.8 billion.
Vaping industry in turmoil
Walmart's decision to step away fully from e-cigarettes comes as more states restrict the products.
New York state health officials voted Tuesday to carry out Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive action to ban sales of most flavored e-cigarettes. This ban would stand for 90 days as a piece of emergency legislation. It would need to be renewed to continue. Last week, Michigan became the first state to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.
President Donald Trump said last week that the FDA would be putting out "some very strong recommendations" regarding the use of flavored e-cigarettes.
The eighth person in the United States died Thursday from lung disease related to vaping, according to Missouri health officials.
There have been 530 confirmed and probable cases of lung injuries related to e-cigarettes as of September 17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. That's 150 more than was reported on September 11.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and state health departments have been investigating this outbreak.
Still, health officials said they haven't found a definitive cause or a clear connection between cases, and they warned that patients worried about becoming ill from vaping should refrain from using e-cigarettes.