When retail giant CVS Caremark unveiled its announcement this morning that it will no longer sell cigarettes or other tobacco products in its stores it was rightly hailed as a boon for public health, even netting public praise – and a thank you - from the White House. But even as CVS said its decision was spurred by its efforts to provide health care to its consumers, the decision also raises questions about the future of traditional smokes’ tobacco-free cousin, electronic cigarettes.

Although CVS does not currently sell electronic cigarettes in its stores, its decision today has fueled speculation that it may sell the products in its more than 7,600 CVS/pharmacy stores in the future. CVS told Scientific American in an email, “We are monitoring what the FDA decides in regard to them,” a reference to the agency's ongoing considerations about how to regulate the popular tobacco alternative. CVS plans to stop selling conventional tobacco products in its stores by October 1, 2014.

Meant to simulate the act of smoking through vaporizing a nicotine-laced solution into an aerosol mist, e-cigarettes have been gaining in popularity in recent years but have also come under fire for attracting youth users. The devices are not currently regulated as tobacco products or subject to the same restrictions that tobacco companies operate under. For example, an advertisement from an e-cigarette company aired in some communities during this year’s Super Bowl when such ads for conventional cigarettes have been banned for decades. Indeed, the science around electronic cigarettes continues to be divisive and its long-term impacts remain unknown.

Image: FDA