Juul CEO Stepping Down Amid Growing Backlash Against Vaping

The e-cigarette company also said they will stop marketing its product as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes

Vaping Increases Among Teens
Photo: Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald/Getty

Juul CEO Kevin Burns is stepping down amid the growing backlash against vaping, the company announced Wednesday.

Burns will be replaced by K.C. Crosthwaite, an executive at the tobacco company Altria, which owns a 35 percent stake in Juul.

The company also said that it would stop all print, broadcast and digital advertisements in the U.S., including its “Make the Switch” campaign promoting Juul as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, a claim that the Food and Drug Administration said was illegal.

Additionally, Juul said that it will not fight the Trump administration’s plans to ban sales of flavored e-cigarettes, which would have a major impact on the company’s bottom line.

Juul’s announcement comes as the country is struggling to understand the outbreak of severe lung illnesses linked to vaping that have left nine people dead and hundreds hospitalized. The Centers for Disease Control, along with the FDA, is currently investigating 530 cases of severe lung illness nationwide. The CDC said Thursday that it still does not know what in e-cigarettes is causing the health problems, but that the cases have occurred in people using nicotine-based e-cigarettes and THC e-cigarettes.

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Burns said in August that the severe lung illness cases were “worrisome,” but that Juul had no plans to change their products until more information was available from the CDC.

The CDC also said that of the 373 cases closely analyzed thus far, 16 percent occurred in people under 18 years old. The rise of teen vaping is a major concern for the FDA, who called it a “public health tragedy” and partially blamed Juul’s initial marketing tactics that targeted teens. Juul is popular among teens for its easily concealable size — it looks like a flash drive — and flavors like mango and watermelon.

The Juul vaping system in Washington, DC.
Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post/Getty

Between 2017 and 2018, teen vaping increased 20 percent, with at least 3.6 million teen users nationwide.

Juul has since taken steps to slow teen use of the product, from changing marketing to banning online sales of flavored pods. Juul remains the most popular e-cigarette on the market.

The company is also facing potential problems with sales as more states and cities are instituting bans on e-cigarettes. Massachusetts announced Tuesday that it will prohibit sales of all e-cigarettes for four months and will “work with our medical experts to identify what is making people sick and how to better regulate these products to protect the health of our residents,” Governor Charlie Baker said.

Massachusetts’ ban is the most restrictive, though New York and Michigan said earlier this month that they will stop sales of flavored e-cigarettes. The city of San Francisco also said in June that they will ban all e-cigarette sales.

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