CHICAGO – With reactions ranging from sobering agreement to intense concern, the convenience-retailing industry responded to multiple proposals from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this past fall regarding flavored tobacco products, including restrictions on flavors in e-cigarettes and a possible ban on menthol cigarettes.
Comments and action from major c-store chains, manufacturers and industry groups continued to trickle out weeks after the Nov. 15 public statements from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
Here’s a roundup of those statements …
Commenting on the FDA’s moves on flavored tobacco products and its interest in keeping youth from using them, Andrew Clyde, president and CEO of Murphy USA, El Dorado, Ark., said the chain had an “exemplary record” regarding age verification.
He also did not foresee any action on flavored vapor products having an effect on Murphy USA's business. He described such flavored items as representing a “small subset” of total vapor products that the company sells.
Both NATO, the Lakeville, Minn.-based tobacco-retailing association and NACS, the Alexandria, Va.-based convenience-store association, responded to the FDA’s actions with concern, saying the proposals would hurt retailers’ businesses and questioning whether the actions would actually curb youth access to and use of nicotine products.
Altria and Juul
Two manufacturers took bold steps in response to the FDA’s efforts. In October, Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc. announced plans to remove its MarkTen Elite and Apex by MarkTen pod-based vaping products from the market.
Then on Nov. 13, Juul Labs, San Francisco, stopped accepting retail orders for its Mango, Fruit, Creme and Cucumber Juul pods from the more 90,000 retail stores—including convenience stores, tobacco retailers and vape shops—that sell them.
Altria then made further decisions regarding e-cigarettes, but with a broader motive of repositioning its product portfolio. On Dec. 7, Altria announced it would discontinue the production and distribution of all of its MarkTen and Green Smoke e-vapor products, as well as Verve oral nicotine-containing products. The company said its decision was based on current and expected financial performance of these products, coupled with regulatory restrictions that burden Altria’s ability to quickly improve these products.
The actions unfolded as reports surfaced that Altria was in talks to purchase a minority interest in Juul.
The leadership of Alimentation Couche-Tard, Laval, Quebec, reacted favorably to Juul’s moves. “So I do applaud [Juul’s] move to remove flavors,” said Brian Hannasch, president and CEO of the parent company of the Circle K chain, in a recent investor call. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Hannasch said Circle K’s next step is to collaborate with its business partners to understand how they can bring those reduced-risk products back into the stores, but make sure those devices end up only with consumers of legal age.