Amidst concerns over the vaping crisis, the CEO of Juul Labs, the beleaguered e-cigarette company accused of marketing directly to teens, has stepped down. The company has also promised to suspend all advertising campaigns in the United States.
Kevin Burns, the chief executive of Juul, is set to be replaced by K.C. Crosthwaite, an executive at Altria, the tobacco company that owns a 30% stake of Juul Labs. “Working at JUUL Labs has been an honor and I still believe the company’s mission of eliminating combustible cigarettes is vitally important,” Burns said in a press release. The company also said on Wednesday that it would not contest President Trump’s plans to institute a federal ban of flavored e-cigarettes in light of the vaping crisis.
The decision comes amidst a nationwide epidemic of lung-related ailments linked to vaping. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and FDA, more than 580 people nationwide have been hospitalized as a result of developing lung conditions following e-cigarette use, reporting such symptoms as shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pain. Nine people have also died in connection with vaping-related ailments, prompting many states, most recently California, to urge residents to avoid e-cigarette use.
While no single culprit has been identified, many of the cases appear to be connected not to traditional e-cigarettes but to vitamin E acetate, a substance used by black-market manufacturers as a thickening agent in THC cartridges, as Rolling Stone has previously reported. The CDC has cautioned, however, that not all of the patients reporting symptoms of vaping-related illness have reported a history of THC cartridge use.
Although Juul, which has cornered much of the e-cigarette market, has not been named or directly linked to any of these ailments, the company has long faced intense scrutiny and criticism for allegedly marketing to teens. During a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing in July, teenagers and parents testified that the company used deceptive marketing practices, such as marketing flavors like mango, mint, and strawberry lemonade. The company was also accused of hiring prominent influencers to advertise their products and sending representatives to high schools to promote vaping as not just a healthier alternative to tobacco use, but as “totally safe.”
Since e-cigarette users started reporting lung ailments in August, many states have moved to institute bans of vaping products. Thus far, Michigan and New York have instituted bans of flavored e-cigarettes, while Massachusetts has instituted a temporary, four-month ban of all e-cigarette products. The Trump administration has also announced that it plans to propose a ban on flavored e-cigarettes as well. Juul has previously indicated that the ban would cut into sales by as much as 80 percent.