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Walgreens and Kroger extinguish e-cigarette sales

Vaping illnesses top 1,000 across the U.S.

Buying e-cigarettes is getting harder as a growing number of major retailers opt out of a market drawing heightened public scrutiny amid vaping-related illness that have killed at least 18 people. Walgreens and Kroger are now following in the footsteps of Walmart and Rite Aid in discontinuing sales of electronic nicotine-delivery products.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are investigating at least 18 confirmed deaths and 1,080 probable vaping illnesses across 48 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Most of the illnesses involved vaping THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, while 17% used only nicotine, according to the CDC.

Flavored e-cigarettes have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially among younger vapers, causing concern among health officials and government regulators, with the FDA labeling use of the product an "epidemic."

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"We have made the decision to stop selling e-cigarette products at our stores nationwide as the CDC, FDA and other health officials continue to examine the issue. This decision is also reflective of developing regulations in a growing number of states and municipalities," Walgreens stated Monday. 

Walgreens is the nation's largest drugstore chain, operating 9,560 stores across the U.S.

Kroger: Will "exit this category"

Kroger posted a similar statement, saying it was "discontinuing the sale of electronic nicotine delivery products, or e-cigarettes, at all store and fuel center locations due to the mounting questions and increasingly complex regulatory environment associated with these products." Kroger added that it would "exit this category after selling through its current inventory."

Kroger, which also owns Harris Teeter, Ralphs, Fred Meyer and other store brands, operates more than 2,700 retail stores.

The moves come more than two weeks after Walmart announced it will stop selling e-cigarettes in all of its stores, with the nation's largest retailer also citing the growing public concerns about vaping.  Rite Aid made the move earlier in the year.

A vaping industry trade group criticized the move by Walgreens and Kroger, calling it hypocritical.

"The fact is that Walgreens and Kroger continue to sell deadly tobacco cigarettes, while hospitals in the United Kingdom have opened vape shops to sell a variety of flavored vapor products to help people quit smoking," Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, said in a statement. 

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