Altria-Juul Deal Is Alarming Development for Public Health and Shows Need for Strong FDA Regulation

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 20, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The announcement that Altria is buying a 35 percent stake in Juul is a truly alarming development for public health and brings together the two companies that have been the most successful in marketing their highly addictive products to kids.

Public health is the loser in a deal that joins America’s most powerful cigarette company, whose success has been driven by Marlboro’s appeal to our youth, and the company responsible for the explosive growth in e-cigarette use among our nation’s children. Altria has no interest in reducing the number of people who smoke cigarettes. They see Juul as their failsafe in case the cigarette market keeps declining so that they remain profitable no matter what happens. Altria’s interests are served by maximizing sales and profits from both the cigarette and e-cigarette markets, and they have every reason to push Juul to market its products in a way that does the least damage to the cigarette market.

As for Juul, the company has lost all credibility in claiming that it cares about public health. There is no longer any question that Juul has been the driving force behind the skyrocketing youth e-cigarette epidemic that has teens and families across the country struggling to deal with nicotine addiction. Juul’s growth has been powered by its success in addicting kids, and the company’s owners have just become billionaires as a result.

This deal also creates a political behemoth that is likely to increase the already huge sums these companies spend to fight regulatory and legislative efforts to discourage use of their products.

This deal underscores the urgent need for effective FDA regulation of e-cigarettes and all tobacco products to stop tobacco companies from reversing decades of progress and addicting another generation of kids. The FDA should strengthen its efforts to address the youth e-cigarette epidemic by prohibiting all flavored e-cigarettes that have not been subject to public health review by the agency, stopping online sales of e-cigarettes until stronger safeguards are in place to prevent sales to kids, restricting marketing that appeals to kids, and enforcing rules prohibiting the sale of new products without prior FDA review and authorization.

It is also critical that the FDA quickly implement its proposals to accelerate reductions in use of cigarettes and other combustible tobacco products. These include banning menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars and reducing nicotine levels in cigarettes to non-addictive or minimally addictive levels (and it should extend the latter proposal to other combustible products).

The Altria-Juul deal shows how far the tobacco industry will go to maximize profits and sell as many products as possible, including cigarettes. The FDA and other policymakers must be equally aggressive in working to reduce tobacco use and save lives.