On December 20, 2018, Tobacco giant Altria invested $12.8 billion dollars for a 35% stake of the company Juul. This comes at the heels of the vape phenom battling investigations brought on by the FDA. This combination leaves people wondering if Juul is yet another sellout to big industry.
Altria is the outcome of a decision by tobacco giant Philip Morris to distance themselves as a cigarette company. After the popularity of cigarettes began to decline, Philip Morris decided that Altria would be the “rebrand” that the company needed. Although Philip Morris is heavily involved in other industries such as food and beverage, their name alone, in most people’s minds is still synonymous with tobacco. Altria would be the step away that the company needed.
In 2015, PAX Labs introduced the Juul e cigarettes to the market. With ad campaigns that targeted cigarette smokers, Juul claimed to be a new, safer and healthier alternative to traditional smoking. Using the Juul, their cravings for cigarettes would decline, and eventually they would quit-at least that’s what Juul was claiming.
In October 2018, the FDA paid the headquarters of Juul a surprise visit. They seized thousands of papers suspecting that Juul was using their products to target minors. The FDA became concerned when they saw a sharp increase in young vapers between 2017 and 2018. The eventual backlash that came as a result painted the young company in an unfavorable light. As Juul’s reputation was taking a hit, larger companies such as Philip Morris and Altria were looking to break into the e cig market. This strike against Juul seemed like the perfect opportunity for the larger companies to take a chance in a big way.
Before their FDA fiasco, Juul made public moves to collaborate with the FDA to deter minors from vaping. Juul made a public oath to invest $30 million over the next three years targeting youth smoking prevention. They openly supported Tobacco 21, which is a campaign to raise the legal smoking age to 21 years old. In a confusing turn of events in the spring of 2018, Juul remained relatively quiet when a dispute arose over whether the flavored Juul pods should be discontinued. That same summer, Juul sent an email blast to their followers urging them to oppose the discontinuation of the flavored pods. Juul seemed to begin to waver on where they actually stood regarding making money or alienating their main consumers; the youth.
The Cole-Bishop amendment to the Agricultural Appropriations Bill was first introduced in 2016 as a means for language that would change the date in the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) from February 15th, 2007 to the effective date of the deeming regulations (August 8th, 2016) for all new products. This change would have allowed all vapor products currently on the market to remain on the market without being subject to the FDA’s premarket approval (PMTA) process.
When asked about about their position on the Cole-Bishop amendment, Juul’s response raised concerns: “Juul Labs is looking to work with the FDA and Congress on establishing scientifically-valid and appropriate regulations of [electronic nicotine delivery systems or ENDS] products.” Critics felt like Juul was beginning to take the same route as traditional tobacco companies.
Fast forward to late 2018, Altria and Juul join forces. Many feel like Juul is further alienating their original idea that they are not the same as big tobacco. What does this union mean for the future of the vaping industry? Will Juul become the new smoking villain?