Altria, one of the world’s biggest tobacco companies, is spending nearly $13 billion to buy a huge stake in the vape company Juul as cigarette use continues to decline.
The growing popularity of e-cigarettes has alarmed a number of health officials.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams said recently that parents, teachers, health professionals and government officials must take “aggressive steps” to keep children from using e-cigarettes.
Federal law bars the sale of e-cigarettes to those under 18.
There is a scramble in the U.S. to reverse a recent explosion in teen vaping that public health officials fear could undermine decades of declines in tobacco use.
An estimated 3.6 million U.S. teens are now using e-cigarettes, representing 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle schoolers, according to the latest federal figures.
Juul said that it recently began to take actions intended to prevent underage vaping. The company shut down its Facebook and Instagram accounts last month and halted in-store sales of flavored pods, which were viewed by many critics as a direct play for younger users.
Juul also said that it’s also enhancing age-verification for its online sales.
Juul Labs Inc., based in San Francisco, said it had initially hesitated to accept the investment from Altria.
“But over the course of the last several months we were convinced by actions, not words, that in fact this partnership could help accelerate our success switching adult smokers,” Juul said.
Juul will remain an independent company, but it gains access to Altria’s massive infrastructure and reach. Namely, Altria will help Juul secure space on store shelves beside traditional cigarettes. It will also help Juul reach smokers via cigarette pack inserts and mailings.
Under the agreement, Altria’s only entry into the e-cigarette market will be through Juul for at least six years.