Walmart, the biggest retailer in the U.S. and a leading seller of firearms and ammunition, announced last week it would stop selling bullets for handguns and military-style rifles, stop selling handguns in Alaska (the last remaining state where it makes such sales), and “respectfully” ask its customers to stop openly carrying guns in its stores.

The move is welcome in its own right — but it’s especially encouraging as a sign that public opinion is swinging ever more strongly in support of effective gun-control policies. CVS, Kroger, Walgreens and other retailers have also adjusted their policies. If Walmart and others see the case for changing their minds, politicians ought to pay attention.

Walmart took the opportunity to address politicians directly, saying: “We encourage our nation’s leaders to move forward and strengthen background checks and to remove weapons from those who have been determined to pose an imminent danger.”

The company has acted on guns before. It took assault weapons off its shelves in 2015, for instance. But this latest action is still striking. The recent attack in one of its stores in El Paso, Texas — leaving 22 dead, and followed within hours by another atrocity in Dayton, Ohio — was seen to demand a response. “The status quo is unacceptable,” said Doug McMillon, the company’s CEO.

He’s right.

The announcement will help to strengthen the cultural change that seems to be happening. But to lessen the proliferation of firearms or the danger of guns getting into dangerous hands, political action is needed as well. The two go hand in hand, which is why Walmart’s initiative matters.

Bloomberg News

What we don’t know can hurt us

Many people, including health professionals, have assumed that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes because they use heated liquid vapor (hence the term “vaping”) rather than burning tobacco leaves in a process that has been proved to be carcinogenic. But “safer” doesn’t mean “risk-free.” A troubling increase of acute lung disease among e-cigarette users across 25 states is making the sobering point that there is still a lot we don’t know about the health implications of vaping.

And it seems we are doomed to learn the hard way. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took the unusual step of warning the public to avoid using any electronic cigarette device until the agency concludes a multistate investigation into the mysterious lung ailment and figures out what is causing it. The CDC launched the investigation in mid-August after receiving more than 150 reports of serious respiratory distress among e-cigarette users, many of them adolescents and young adults. Within a couple of weeks, dozens more cases were reported, including the death of one e-cigarette user in Illinois.

For longtime smokers of Marlboros or Camels who are trying to quit, the danger of lung cancer may well outweigh the potential dangers of vaping. But there’s always some risk involved in inhaling chemicals, and if there’s any good to come out of this lung disease outbreak, perhaps it will be to bring that lesson home to teens and young adults considering taking up the e-cigarette habit.

Los Angeles Times