The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is accusing Altria Group Inc. and Juul Labs Inc. of backing out of their commitments to help end e-cigarette sales to minors, The New York Times reported Jan. 4, citing Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
Gottlieb is writing letters to both companies to criticize them for publicly pledging that they will address the widespread access and use of vaping products by the youth while secretly negotiating a financial partnership that seems in contrast to the move, according to the newspaper.
In October 2018, Altria said it would stop selling MarkTen Elite and Apex by MarkTen pod-based products after the FDA threatened to remove e-cigarettes from stores if the companies making them could not specify within 60 days how they planned to keep these products away from underage customers.
At that time, the tobacco company said it expects "immaterial" impacts to revenue and profit from the decision. Meanwhile, Juul in November 2018 also released a plan to comply with the FDA campaign, saying it already has steps in place to prevent minors from accessing vaping devices.
But in December 2018, Altria acquired a 35% stake in the California-based e-cigarette maker. Under the deal, Altria will expand the reach of vaping products manufactured by Juul by giving the latter access to shelf space in 230,000 retail outlets where Marlboro cigarettes and other Altria tobacco products are sold.
"Their recent actions and statements appear to be inconsistent with those commitments," Gottlieb reportedly told the Times, adding that the companies' plans to comply with the agency's request now appear to be in jeopardy.
The news comes a week after Gottlieb, in a series of tweets, said he is looking to hold discussions with CEOs of e-cigarette makers, including Altria, Juul, Japan Tobacco Inc., Imperial Brands PLC and British American Tobacco PLC, "to discuss commitments they made [in November], and why some are changing course."
Altria spokesman David Sutton said the company is merely a minority investor in Juul and that it does not control the vape-maker's business, the report said. Sutton added that Altria's commitment to preventing teenagers from using any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, remains unchanged.
Victoria Davis, a spokeswoman for Juul, told the newspaper that the company also remains committed to the FDA's campaign. "We are moving full steam ahead on implementing our action plan to limit youth usage, and this is unchanged since we announced our plan in November."