The Food and Drug Administration is reportedly preparing to deny authorization for Juul’s tobacco- and menthol-flavored products, effectively forcing the e-cigarette giant out of the US market, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
In its report, the Journal cited unnamed people familiar with the matter, who also said the FDA could announce its rejection today, Wednesday, June 22.
If the report is accurate, the move will come on the heels of the FDA’s announcement Tuesday that the regulator is working on plans to set a maximum nicotine level for cigarettes and other burned tobacco products. It’s a move aimed at making products less appealing to young people, less addictive and less deadly.
“Nicotine is powerfully addictive,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a statement. “The US Surgeon General has reported that 87% of adult smokers start smoking before the age of 18, and approximately two-thirds of adult daily smokers started smoking daily by age 18. Reduce levels of nicotine at minimally addictive or non-addictive levels would decrease the likelihood of future generations of youth becoming addicted to cigarettes and help more current addicted smokers to quit.”
Juul has become notorious for its ties to youth vaping, which has skyrocketed to “epidemic” levels in recent years. Health advocates also allege that Juul made its products more powerful and addictive, raising the risk that teens who experiment with vaping will get hooked, potentially for life.
A 2019 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that Juul took an idea from RJ Reynolds, the maker of Camel cigarettes, to use nicotine salts and softening chemicals to allow e-cigarette users to take deep, high-nicotine puffs. without the risk of vomiting or burning your throat. Health researchers have also found that Juul sprays can deliver substantially more nicotine than other tobacco products. In one study, rodents exposed to Juul sprays had blood nicotine levels five to eight times higher than those seen after exposure to other e-cigarettes and cigarette products.
The higher levels of nicotine are particularly concerning, as Juul has frequently been accused of marketing its potent products to underage youth. In 2015 and 2016, the company used young, hip models in marketing material and allegedly purchased advertisements on websites targeting teens and children, including Cartoon Network’s cartoonnetwork.com and Nickelodeon’s Nick.com and NickJr.com sites.
In the years since, both Juul’s profits and youth vaping have increased. Between 2017 and 2018, Juul’s dollar sales increased 783% to $942.6 million, according to an analysis of Nielsen data from Wells Fargo. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of high school students who reported recent e-cigarette use increased from 0.6% in 2011 to 10.5% in 2019. For high school students, usage increased from 1.5% to 27.5% in that time period.
As alarm grew over youth vaping trends, Juul announced in 2019 that it would stop selling products with flavors popular with youth, namely mango, fruit, crème brûlée and cucumber.
“We must restore the category of vapor by earning the trust of society and working cooperatively with regulators, lawmakers and stakeholders to combat underage use while providing an alternative to adult smokers,” he said at the time. Juul CEO KC Crosthwaite.
In 2020, the FDA banned sweet and fruity e-cigarette products and began reviewing vaping products, including remaining Juul products.
The Wall Street Journal noted that a Juul denial would also be bad news for Altria, the maker of Marlboro, which in 2018 paid $12.8 billion for a 35 percent stake in Juul. The deal put Juul’s value at about $35 billion, but its current value has fallen significantly. As of March 31, Altria valued its stake in Juul at $1.6 billion.