Have you received a letter from tobacco giant RJ Reynolds demanding that you remove flavored vapes from your shelves? If you have, you’re not alone. According to recent reports, Reynolds has been sending letters to vape shops across the country, threatening legal action if they continue to sell flavored tobacco products.
The letters, which were obtained by STAT, a health-oriented news website, demand that smoke shops confirm within a few days that they will no longer sell flavored tobacco products. Failure to comply could result in “legal action, and the costs, attorneys’ fees, and adverse publicity to which a lawsuit would subject [the vape shop],” the letters warn.
Reynolds’ campaign to crack down on illegal vaping products has been escalating in recent months. In February, the company petitioned the FDA to ban flavored disposable vapes, and it is supporting legislation in Congress that would do the same. The company is frustrated with the FDA’s inconsistent enforcement approach towards flavored vapes, where warning letters have been issued to only a few manufacturers despite all such products being illegal.
In addition to sending letters to smoke shops, Reynolds has also sent a bulletin to its own retailers and wholesalers, warning them against selling illegal products that could result in the termination of their contract. While this earlier bulletin did not mention the possibility of suing vape shops, the recent letters highlight the company’s increasing determination to remove illegal products from store shelves and away from underage consumers.
To date, it doesn’t appear that Reynolds has followed through on its legal threats and actually sued any vape shops selling flavored products. However, if the company does choose to pursue legal action, it would likely do so under a state’s unfair competition law. In both letters, Reynolds’ attorneys argue that selling flavored tobacco products violates those laws because the sale of unauthorized products “has harmed and continues to harm” Reynolds’ vapor business.
Curiously, the letters do not specify how exactly Reynolds has been harmed by the sale of flavored vapes. When asked about the claim, a spokesperson for the company simply stated that “retailers that break the law threaten to undermine the potential of tobacco harm reduction to move adult smokers who have chosen not to quit to consider potentially less-risky alternatives by stocking shelves with unregulated, illegal products from unknown sources.”