‘A match made in tobacco heaven’: AHA slams potential Altria-Juul partnership

A possible deal between controversial e-cigarette company Juul and tobacco giant Altria could be a matter of weeks away, the Wall Street Journal reported in late November—and Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, isn’t pleased at the prospect.

“The union of Altria, the world’s largest cigarette company, and Juul, the world’s leading manufacturer of electronic cigarettes, would be a match made in tobacco heaven,” Brown wrote in a statement issued Nov. 28. “The combination of Altria’s sordid history of spending billions to entice kids to smoke and Juul’s breathtaking success at hooking a new generation of children on nicotine could mark an historic setback for lifesaving tobacco control efforts.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Juul’s year-to-date sales reached $1.8 billion Nov. 17, but the company’s commercial success has been muted by criticism that it tailors its marketing toward teens and minors. Earlier this month, Juul Labs announced it would be shuttering its social media and suspending retail sales for the majority of its flavored e-cigarette pods, including mango, fruit, crème and cucumber pods. Altria made a similar move in October, discontinuing the sale of its pod-style e-cigarettes, but the company’s market value continues to exceed $100 billion.

“Both companies claim to want to reduce harm from tobacco use, but it’s hard to imagine a global cigarette maker promoting the responsible use of electronic devices that are ostensibly intended to help adults quit smoking,” Brown wrote. “Recent actions by the FDA to crack down on the sale of flavored tobacco products—including traditional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes and cigars—are even more urgent in light of a potential partnership between Altria and Juul.

“So, too, is the immediate need for the FDA to go further to prevent our nation’s children from becoming prey for traditional and electronic cigarette companies alike.”

According to the WSJ, a significant minority stake in Juul would help Altria defend itself against inroads from e-cigarettes and allow Juul to occupy some of Altria’s coveted shelf space, usually reserved for brands like Marlboro, Parliament and Skoal.