The nation’s largest e-cigarette maker will stop advertising its devices in the U.S. and replace its chief executive as mysterious breathing illnesses and an explosion in teen vaping have triggered efforts to crack down on the largely unregulated industry.
Juul Labs and other e-cigarette makers are fighting to survive as they face backlash from two public health debacles. Federal and state officials have seized on the recent outbreak of lung illnesses — including nine reported deaths — to push through restrictions designed to curb underage vaping.
No major e-cigarette brand has been tied to the ailments, including Juul, which said it won’t fight a Trump administration proposal for a sweeping ban on e-cigarette flavors that can appeal to teens.
Governors in Michigan and New York moved to outlaw vaping flavors this month, while Massachusetts said Tuesday that it will ban all vaping products for four months, the first such step in the country.
“I think this rush to judgment is extraordinary, and we might be looking at the demise of vaping,” said Kenneth Warner, professor emeritus at University of Michigan’s school of public health.
Warner and some other experts believe vaping has the potential to dramatically reduce the deadly toll of traditional cigarettes among adult smokers.
But he said Juul made “enormous mistakes” in its early advertising campaigns, which featured young models, bright colors and youth-oriented catchphrases.
E-cigarettes have been largely unregulated since arriving in the U.S. in 2007. The Food and Drug Administration has set next May as a deadline for manufacturers to submit their products for review.
Juul until now has advertised its e-cigarettes in print, TV, radio and online. It’s also replacing its CEO with a senior executive from Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes that paid $13 billion for a 35% stake in Juul in December. The new chief, K.C. Crosthwaite, said in a statement that Juul has long focused on providing adult smokers with alternatives but recognized that there’s “unacceptable levels of youth usage and eroding public confidence in our industry.”
Health experts generally consider e-cigarettes less harmful than traditional cigarettes because they don’t contain all the cancer-causing byproducts of burning tobacco. But there’s virtually no long-term research on the health effects of the vapor produced when e-cigarettes heat a liquid with nicotine.