E-cigarette giant Juul Labs said Wednesday that it is suspending all of its U.S. advertising and will not lobby against a recently proposed ban on all flavored vaping products, a dramatic shift for a company that has shelled out millions on promoting its products and fighting policies that would restrict their sale.
The company also announced in a statement that its chief executive officer, Kevin Burns, is stepping down and will be replaced by an executive at Altria, a part-owner of Juul.
The moves come as Juul is confronting a major controversy over the marketing of its products. Health officials have blamed Juul, in part, for the rise in underage vaping. The company is also being investigated by the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission and is the subject of a criminal probe by California prosecutors.
“I have long believed in a future where adult smokers overwhelmingly choose alternative products like JUUL,” said K.C. Crosthwaite, the incoming CEO, in a statement. “Unfortunately, today that future is at risk due to unacceptable levels of youth usage and eroding public confidence in our industry.”
The announcement comes just hours before a House of Representatives committee hearing on the public health threat of e-cigarettes, where top officials from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will testify. Public health officials have cautioned the public to stop using e-cigarettes amid an ongoing outbreak of serious lung illnesses linked to vaping. The outbreak — which has been tied to nine deaths and hundreds of illnesses — has spurred a flurry of legislative action around e-cigarette use. That outbreak has not been associated with any specific product.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced a plan to ban all flavored e-cigarettes, which make up a majority of Juul’s sales. The proposal would mean that all flavored e-cigarettes — except those flavored like tobacco — would be removed from the market until they’re approved by the FDA. On Tuesday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency and banned the sale of all vaping products in the state for four months. Other states have moved to restrict access to the products.
Juul has said it has worked to curb underage purchases and has not targeted teens with its products. Earlier this month, however, the FDA fired off a warning letter to the company citing a variety of unproven claims made about its products, including statements made in presentations given directly to kids in schools.
That letter also highlighted Juul’s “Make The Switch” campaign and its “Switching Program” presentation to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, which included phrases such as, “Juul is a smart, really well thought-out alternative to smoking. Make the switch.” The FDA said it was concerned those messages would suggest to consumers that switching to Juul is a safer alternative to smoking or that their products are less harmful than cigarettes.
In its statement, the company said it will also end the “Make The Switch” campaign.