Rite Aid will no longer sell e-cigarettes

Rite Aid said it will remove e-cigarettes from its drugstores nationwide, though it will continue selling traditional cigarettes.

The drugstore chain said it will remove all e-cigarettes and vaping products from its shelves over the next 90 days. Company executives said the decision, which was announced during a conference call Thursday, was made due to the increased number of teenagers and children using the products.

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“While many feel these products are beneficial to those of legal age who're 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,” Chief Operating Officer Bryan Everett said.

Removing vaping products, but not traditional cigarettes, is a different approach than the company’s competitors. CVS does not sell any tobacco products, while Walgreens sells both traditional and electronic cigarettes.

Everett cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which found tobacco use among young people has been growing rapidly, driven largely by an increase of e-cigarette use.

The past year has seen a 78 percent increase in e-cigarette use among high school students, and a 48 percent increase among middle school students, according to the CDC.

The federal government has been grappling with the spike in teen vaping. The surgeon general issued a rare public health advisory about teen vaping late last year and called for more restrictions, including increased taxes and indoor e-cigarette bans.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed limiting the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes to age-restricted, in-person locations, effectively ending sales at gas stations and convenience stores.

“It’s hard for a convenience store to let go of tobacco,” former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who stepped down last week, said in a CNBC interview after Rite Aid announced the change.

About 30 percent of convenience store sales come from cigarettes, he noted.

If Rite Aid were worried about a regulatory crackdown, Gottlieb said they would pull traditional cigarettes off the shelves as well, since they have had some issues keeping cigarettes away from young people.

“This was not exactly a profile in courage,” Gottlieb said. “They are not exactly good from a corporate compliance standpoint on keeping traditional tobacco products out of the hands of kids.”