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Report: Altria's stake purchase in Juul remains under antitrust review

Altria Group Inc.'s purchase of a 35% stake in e-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc. in 2018 remains under federal antitrust review over concerns about how Altria manages its shelf space in stores, The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 17, citing people familiar with the matter.

Under the $12.8 billion deal, Juul agreed to become an exclusive e-cigarette brand under Altria, while Altria agreed to provide shelf space for Juul's menthol and tobacco-based products.

As part of the transaction, Altria also acquired nonvoting shares in Juul, but it cannot convert these to voting shares until antitrust regulators clear the deal. The tobacco company also cannot appoint representatives to Juul's board or include Juul's earnings in its own statements until the antitrust review is complete.

The Marlboro maker closed its e-cigarette business weeks before it announced its investment in Juul.

Since the deal closed, Juul has faced intense scrutiny in the federal and state levels over how it markets its vaping products to underage consumers.

Back in August 2019, the Journal said the Federal Trade Commission has joined other agencies in investigating Juul's marketing practices.

Most recently, the newspaper said other than the investigation into Juul's marketing practices, the FTC has also opened a probe into Altria's purchase of additional retail shelf space in convenience stores and other outlets where e-cigarette products are sold even after deciding to shut down its own e-cigarette business as part of its Juul investment. Altria reportedly offered retailers cash and display fixtures to secure prime shelf space for at least two years.

Altria did not immediately respond to S&P Global Market Intelligence's request for comment.