Was FDA’s Gottlieb DUPED as Altria grants Juul access to 230,000 new retailers?

Right in the midst of the holiday season, Juul Labs accepted a 12.8 billion offer by Big Tobacco’s the Altria Group to become a 35 percent shareholder in the world’s most profitable vapor company.  The news was not well-received by many vaping enthusiasts, including several Juul employees who labeled the proposition a deal with the devil.   

The investment opportunity also apparently caught the attention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), particularly its head honcho Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.  Immediately after the deal was finalized and made public, the FDA Chief called for an immediate meeting with representatives of both companies.  Gottlieb is pissed.

FDA accuses Juul and Altria of reneging on past promises to help curb teen vaping

In early November 2018, rumors began surfacing that the FDA was planning to announce new regulations banning the sales of flavored e-liquids.  Dr. Gottlieb was making waves on mainstream media programs like CNBC’s Squawk Box seemingly waffling on the specifics of the alleged ban itself. 

  • Would the FDA be banning all favored vape juice sales, even those sold on e-commerce sites?
  • Was the FDA secretly planning to abolish the sales of only certain flavors of e-liquids. If so, which ones?
  • Was Gottlieb going to prohibit the sales of only those products deemed to be using kid-appealing advertising methods?
  • Or could the FDA be targeting only those flavored vapes sold in convenience stores and other brick-and-mortar retail outlets?

No one seemed to know for sure, and Gottlieb wasn’t making any promises.  When asked the question by the press, he would only respond by saying that “all options are on the table.”

Related Article:   BREAKING NEWS: FDA considers banning ALL online e-cig & vaping sales

Perhaps in an attempt to soften the severity of the forthcoming regulatory actions, both Juul and Altria announced within days of one another that they would be pulling all fruity-flavored vapor products from store shelves effective immediately.  Only vape shops and tobacco retailers would be exempt.

Within days, the FDA institutes the very same rules nationwide and for all e-liquid manufacturers, not just Juul and Altria.  However, the threat of a complete and total ban on all vape juices other than tobacco flavors still looms.  Gottlieb even claims that if teen vaping rates do not drop dramatically and quickly, he’ll up the ante by implementing additional anti-vaping regulations at a moment’s notice.

Related Article:  Sleeping with the enemy: Juul closes $12.8 billion deal with Altria

Then, the Juul-Altria deal occurs, and Gottlieb once again calls executives of both companies into his office for a face-to-face showdown.  As reported in the New York Times, Gottlieb has discovered that the Big Tobacco conglomerate is now granting Juul Labs access to over 230,000 retail outlets for the sales of flavored pods and other products.  As a comparison, Juul only sold in approximately 90,000 stores prior to the new deal.

“Juul and Altria made very specific assertions in their letters and statements to the FDA about the drivers of the youth epidemic…Their recent actions and statements appear to be inconsistent with those commitments.”
“I’m reaching out to both companies to ask them to come in and explain to me why they seem to be deviating from the representation that they already made to the agency about steps they are taking to restrict their products in a way that will decrease access to kids.”
-  FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb via The San Francisco Chronical

Reading between the lines, it appears as if the notoriously anti-vaping Gottlieb was duped by the dynamic duo of Altria and Juul.  Altria spokesperson David Sutton denies these assertions.

“We didn’t buy Juul.  We didn’t merge with Juul. They are an independent company. Our commitment to preventing youth from using any tobacco product including e-vapor is unchanged.”

Juul spokesperson Victoria Davis made similar statements claiming that Juul Labs is still moving “full steam ahead” to implement new strategies to prevent and reduce underage vaping.  FDA Chief Gottlieb wants more information, thus the newly announced meeting.

Related Article:  JUUL joins Altria by stopping sales of fruity vapes in brick-and-mortar venues

However, now that the world’s largest retailer of vapor products is essentially partnering with a Big Tobacco conglomerate, what is going to happen next?  The tobacco industry has decades of experience in successfully battling the U.S. government over excessive regulation.  It also has the very deep pockets to prove it.

Now that Juul has access to Altria’s strongbox of legal and lobbying expertise, one has to wonder.  What will this mean for the vaping industry in general, most especially for the Mom and Pop e-liquid manufacturers who lack Big Tobacco’s cash, political connections, and dream-team attorneys?  This fight is about to get very, very ugly.

Related Article:  Juul employees angered over Altria ‘deal with the devil’

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