In a huge blow to smokers who are trying to switch to safer nicotine products, Rite Aid, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the US, has announced that it will stop selling vaping products. Rite Aid caved because of the relentless fear-mongering around teen vaping that is being whipped up by the FDA, the CDC, and tobacco harm reduction-hating organizations like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
“While many feel [e-cigarettes] are beneficial to those of legal age who are trying to quit the use of tobacco, we have made the decision to remove all electronic cigarettes and vaping products from our offering at all Rite Aid stores,” said Bryan Everett, the chain’s chief operating officer, on April 11. He added, “We’re concerned about some of the alarming statistics regarding the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products by children and teens.”
There is no no epidemic of teenagers, let alone children, vaping in the US—there is an increase in young people experimenting with and using vaping products, but the vast majority vape recreationally, at parties or on weekends, not daily. And it’s a fact—not a feeling, as Everett put it—that e-cigarettes are beneficial in helping smokers quit. E-cigarettes are almost twice as effective at helping smokers quit as nicotine replacement products like patches, lozenges and gum.
In a move betraying classic doublethink, Rite Aid will continue to sell cigarettes. How does that make sense?
It is vital for pharmacies like Rite Aid, which has 2,500 stores across the country, to stock vaping products. As community hubs, pharmacies sell everything from milk to medicine. They are an ideal place to offer vaping products because they are easily accessible and conveniently located in most cities and towns. Age controls are easy to implement. E-cigarettes should be on the same shelves as other smoking cessation products, as one major UK supermarket chain recently acknowledged.
In a move betraying classic doublethink, Rite Aid will continue to sell cigarettes. How does that make sense? Combustible tobacco products—the leading cause of preventable death in the US—will still be on the shelves, but e-cigarettes, which are 95 percent safer, will be pulled. Rite Aid would do better to do the opposite: Stop selling cigarettes and heavily promote e-cigarettes, which have the potential to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of smokers. After all, the core mission of pharmacies is the promotion of products that improve health.
In 2014, the pharmacy chain CVS removed all tobacco products from its stores at a loss of 2 billion in annual sales. Unfortunately, CVS has never sold vaping products. And the company repeats the lie that e-cigarettes are harmful tobacco products. There is no tobacco in e-cigarettes—just nicotine.
Rite Aid agreeing to halt the sale of e-cigarettes is a public health tragedy in two parts. First, it is beyond shameful that the FDA—in partnership with tobacco control zealots at Truth Initiative and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids as well as other organizations—is bullying pharmacies to stop selling a safe product proven to help smokers quit. And second, it is unethical that Rite Aid caved to this bullying when it came to lifesaving vaping products, but will happily keep on selling the cigarettes that may well kill its customers.
Image shows a rally for workers’ rights outside Rite Aid, via Wikimedia Commons