In September 2018, the FDA had issued more than 1,000 warning letters to U.S. retailers and manufacturers of e-cigarettes, amongst which Juul and Altria, in what the agency had called “the largest coordinated enforcement effort in the FDA’s history.”
In the letters, the agency had demanded that these companies present proof that they can keep their nicotine-containing products out of the hands of minors, within 60 days. The FDA had threatened that should they fail to do so, it could ban candy-like flavors that may be particularly appealing to this age group.
Following this, several vaping businesses had had meetings with the FDA, and during one such meeting between Altria and Gottlieb, the two parties had discussed “actions that could be taken”. As a result of this meeting, Altria had said that whilst waiting for the agency’s verdict, it would stop selling certain products that could possibly contribute to an increase in teen vaping.
Juul and Altria loose credibility after striking a deal
Gottlieb is once again threatening to pull e-cigarettes off the market if more isn’t done to reduce “epidemic” levels of teen use.
Meanwhile a couple of months later, Altria made a deal with Juul and purchased 35% of the company. Like other tobacco companies, Altria has been trying to convince the world that it has a new found conscience and that its reasons for expanding into the vaping industry include wanting to end the current smoking epidemic.
“We are taking significant action to prepare for a future where adult smokers overwhelmingly choose non-combustible products over cigarettes,” said Altria’s CEO Howard Willard at the time.
However Gottlieb remains unimpressed, and this deal is making him question whether these companies are truly committed to reducing teen vaping. He is accusing both Juul and Altria of reneging on promises they made to help combat teen vaping.
A meeting to explain the strategy behind the Juul/Altria deal
Consequently, the FDA Commissioner is calling Altria CEO Howard Willard and Juul CEO Kevin Burns to the agency’s headquarters outside of Washington to explain their strategy. And is once again threatening to pull e-cigarettes off the market if more isn’t done to reduce “epidemic” levels of teen use.
“I’m concerned,” said Gottlieb in an interview with CNBC. “Did something change? Do they have new data? Do they have a new understanding? Because they just made a very big commitment to support the expansion of pod-based products, which they said contributes to the youth epidemic.”
Juul & Altria insist they are committed to combatting teen vaping
In response to this, Juul spokesman Matt David said the company is “committed as ever to preventing underage use of e-cigarettes.” While Altria’s Willard said that he had already sent a letter to Gottlieb last month saying he wanted to meet to discuss the investment and how it can help get more adult smokers to quit by switching to Juul’s nicotine pods.
Additionally, last Thursday, Altria said it still agrees with Gottlieb that “underage vaping has to be addressed” and is “committed to being part of the solution.” “We look forward to meeting with the commissioner,” said Altria spokesman Steve Callahan.
Read Further: CNBC