Embattled e-cigarette heavyweight Juul is shaking up its leadership and marketing practices as the company faces increasing regulatory scrutiny. Juul announced on Wednesday that CEO Kevin Burns is being replaced by K.C. Crosthwaite, an executive at tobacco company Altria, which bought 35 percent of Juul in December.
In the same announcement, Juul declared that it is “suspending all broadcast, print and digital product advertising in the U.S.” The move comes a week after media companies CBS, Viacom, and WarnerMedia decided to follow CNN’s lead and ban e-cigarette advertising, including Juul, from their networks.
Marketing is a particularly touchy subject for Juul, which is currently being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission for its marketing practices. Several states and the Food and Drug Administration are also investigating Juul’s advertising methods. The FDA, in particular, recently found that Juul had illegally promoted its product as being less harmful than regular cigarettes. The company is also reportedly facing a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in California, but the nature of that investigation remains unknown.
Juul’s move to pull its marketing isn’t a new one for the company. In 2018, when the FDA was first discussing a ban on flavored e-cigarette products, the company pulled all of its flavored products from shelves and shuttered its social media accounts.
Juul has also been under increased scrutiny from public health officials since last year when data showed that 3.6 million high school and middle school students in the United States had used e-cigarettes — a huge spike from the previous year — with the majority of kids saying that they used flavored products. The US surgeon general soon added to the pressure, declaring youth vaping an epidemic in a rare advisory that specifically mentioned Juul’s skyrocketing sales and high nicotine content.
In 2018, the FDA decreed that most sweet flavors of vapes were restricted to places where people under 18 could not freely shop, but it stopped short of a full ban on flavored products. This year, there’s been increased public attention on the industry, which is partly driven by an outbreak of vaping-related lung injuries that have alarmed public health experts.
The two separate public health issues — underage vaping and the outbreak — have pushed governments to swiftly enact regulations over the past few weeks. India recently announced a complete ban on e-cigarette products in the face of its own youth vaping epidemic. In the US, several states have announced bans on e-cigarette products, including Michigan, which announced a ban on flavored vapes and marketing restrictions for e-cigarette companies, and Massachusetts, which just announced that it was banning all e-cigarette products for four months.
On a federal level, the Trump administration has directed the FDA to take a harsher stance on vaping, potentially banning flavored vape products across the country. In today’s statement, Juul said that it would not fight the FDA’s policy. The company is “refraining from lobbying the Administration on its draft guidance and committing to fully support and comply with the final policy when effective.”
Juul has long maintained that its products are only intended for people who want to quit smoking, though their effectiveness as smoking cessation tools is still up in the air. In a CBS interview last month, then-CEO Burns told non-smokers not to pick up the company’s product. “Don’t vape,” he said. “Don’t use Juul.”