Juul Labs stopped selling fruit and dessert flavours Thursday, acknowledging the public’s “lack of trust” in the vaping industry.
The voluntary step is the company’s latest attempt to weather a growing political backlash blaming its flavoured-nicotine products for hooking a generation of teenagers on electronic cigarettes.
Juul, the bestselling e-cigarette brand in the U.S., has been besieged by scrutiny, including multiple investigations by Congress, the Food and Drug Administration and several state attorneys general. The company is also being sued by adults and underage Juul users who claim they were addicted to nicotine by the company’s products. And the Trump administration has proposed banning nearly all vaping flavours.
Still, the company’s latest step is unlikely to satisfy its critics.
The flavours affected by Thursday’s announcement — mango, crème, fruit and cucumber — account for 10 per cent of Juul’s sales. It will continue selling its most popular flavours, mint and menthol, for now. A spokesman said the company is reviewing its products and practices and has not made “any final decisions.”
Mint and menthol account for most of Juul’s retail sales, according to analysts, and are the most popular flavours among teens.
The San Francisco-based company will also continue to sell its tobacco-flavoured vaping pods.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ Matthew Myers said that Juul’s decision to keep selling mint and menthol shows “it isn’t serious about preventing youth use.”
“Juul knows that 64% of high school e-cigarette users now use mint or menthol flavours and this number is growing all the time,” Myers said in a statement.
His group and others are urging the Trump administration to follow through on its proposal to ban all vaping flavours except tobacco.
The sales concession comes less than a month after a major shake-up at the privately held firm, in which it pledged to stop advertising and agreed to stop lobbying against the administration’s proposed flavour ban.
“We must reset the vapour category by earning the trust of society and working co-operatively with regulators, policymakers and stakeholders,” the company’s new CEO, K.C. Crosthwaite, said in a statement. He previously worked as an executive for Marlboro-maker Altria, which is also Juul’s biggest investor.
This week’s move marks a remarkable shift for Juul, which had argued for years that its flavours help adult smokers quit cigarettes.
But the announcement doesn’t necessarily mean the permanent end of Juul’s flavours. Instead, Crosthwaite said the company would defer to the decision of the Food and Drug Administration, which has set a deadline of next May for manufacturers to submit their vaping products for federal review.
Under the agency’s standards, only vaping products that represent a net benefit to public health are supposed to remain on the market.
The Associated Press