A 35% stake sale of Juul Labs to Altria has put both companies in the hot seat with the FDA, but some worry the consequences could impact the entire vaping industry
The ongoing debate over the efficacy of vaping is reaching a boiling point for many. Between new taxes and regulations crippling the growing industry and concerns over teenage vaping at an all-time high, something has to give eventually. For most independent vaping companies this has meant focusing on the harm reduction and smoking cessation value of their products while distancing themselves from the unpopular Big Tobacco industry. Unfortunately for many, Juul Labs recently broke with this trend and even their own mission statements when they sold a 35% stake of their company to the massive tobacco conglomerate, Altria.
One of the most interested parties in this deal was none other than the US Food and Drug Administration, who have been ramping up their anti-vaping efforts throughout 2018. They had already placed companies like Juul Labs on thin ice with warnings about any potential marketing toward children, and getting into bed with a company like Altria didn’t sit well with Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. As a result, the entire industry, not just Juul Labs and Altria, could soon be facing major consequences which have the potential to change the face of the vaping industry forever.
The Recent Deal
After years of marketing themselves as an entirely independent company focused on smoking cessation, Juul Labs made the tough choice to let Altria into the fold last month. This understandably caused a major hit to their credibility as an unbiased company without any conflicts of interest toward Big Tobacco. In fact, as recently as last April a major executive with Juul Labs went on the record to say they’re entirely independent and not tied to any big tobacco companies in any way. These comments were taken in good faith as they came during part of Juul Labs self-imposed push to refocus their message on smoking cessation and away from flashy marketing.
Unfortunately, just a few months later things had gotten so hairy Juul Labs was forced to reconsider everything. Facing increased pressure from the FDA and other regulatory bodies about their marketing practices, the climate around Juul Labs had become so unstable they were forced to call off a fundraising effort that would have gotten their company value over the $20 billion line for the first time. This was right around the same time the early reports of a deal between Juul Labs and Altria were reported, later confirmed around the holiday.
The FDA’s Reaction
Likely the strongest response to the deal between Juul and Altria was from the FDA. It didn’t take long for Commissioner Gottlieb to go on the record in the New York Times calling out the news. “Juul and Altria made very specific assertions in their letters and statements to the FDA about the drivers of the youth epidemic. Their recent actions and statements appear to be inconsistent with those commitments.” Part of these recent actions included reports the new deal would give Juul Labs access to approximately 230,000 total retail outlets, compared with just over 90,000 which they currently occupy.
Dr. Gottlieb has been a better friend to vaping than his predecessor, for instance extending the implementation of the deeming rules another four years to give companies more time to handle the increased red tape. But he’s also made it very clear on several occasions that his primary concern is protecting teens from developing a habit which some fear leads to a life of cigarettes. He’s even gone as far as to say that if teenage vaping rates don’t improve to his liking, he will consider all further regulations, including outright bans. Showing his resolve on the topic despite evidence which indicates these bans do little more than lead reformed smokers back into a hazardous habit.
Issues like this show how complicated the vaping debate can be at times. While it’s undoubtedly questionable for a vaping company to sell a large stake to Big Tobacco, should that automatically disqualify them from having value as an advocate for these harm reduction and smoking cessation devices? These questions will never have clean and straightforward answers, but it’s on us as a community to work together to decide the best course of action. Cause ultimately, regardless of what happens to Juul Labs and Altria, this could be the start of massive changes for the entire vaping industry in America. That’s why it’s more important now than ever that we spread all of the positive information we have on vaping to those smokers in our lives. The more people who fully understand what vaping has to offer, the easier it will become to secure and protect our vaping rights.
Do you think it’s wrong for Juul Labs to sell a stake to a Big Tobacco company? How should we handle cases like this where the lines get blurred? What’s the best way to spread positive information about vaping? Let us know what you think in the comments, and don’t forget to check back here or join our Facebook and Twitter communities for more news and articles.