Media Moves

Juul CEO steps down

September 26, 2019

Posted by Irina Slav

Juul’s chief executive Kevin Burns has stepped down amid a worsening vaping crisis in the U.S.

Timothy Annett had the news for Bloomberg:

 Juul Labs Inc. said Chief Executive Officer Kevin Burns will step down, as the highly valued private e-cigarette company confronts a growing public backlash. The company said in a statement that K.C. Crosthwaite will be joining the company as CEO effective immediately. Crosthwaite previously served as chief growth officer at Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc., which took a $13 billion stake in Juul last year.

At the same time on Wednesday, Altria said it was ending merger talks with fellow tobacco giant Philip Morris International Inc. The companies said in a statement that they would focus on another smoke-free technology called IQOS in the U.S. electronic-cigarette market. Shares of Philip Morris jumped more than 6% in early trading, while Altria rose about 3%.

Juul, which makes the top-selling e-cigarette device in the U.S., has found itself at the center of an increasing controversy over vaping. A mysterious lung illness has killed seven people and sickened more than 500 others in recent months, and U.S. health officials have said that vaping among youth has reached epidemic proportions.

Reuters’s Siddharth Cavale and Nivedita Balu noted the move comes as two of Juul’s key investors suspended their merger talks:

The chief executive of e-cigarette maker Juul stepped down on Wednesday as merger talks between its biggest investor Altria and Philip Morris collapsed in the face of a regulatory backlash against vaping that could reshape the industry.

Juul Labs, in which tobacco giant Altria Group Inc owns a 35% stake, is facing intense scrutiny in its home market as teen use of e-cigarettes surges. The company, which faces a U.S. ban on some products, said on Wednesday that it would suspend all advertising in the country.

Marlboro makers Philip Morris International Inc and Altria, announcing the end of their $187 billion merger talks, said they would instead focus on the joint launch of tobacco-heating product iQOS in the United States.

Philip Morris walked away from the negotiations with Altria as the regulatory risk around Juul increased, according to a source familiar with the discussions. Philip Morris was also concerned about the performance of its shares, as investors concerned about a tie-up with Altria expressed their dissatisfaction, the source added.

CNN’s Chris Isidore reported Juul will also suspend all advertising:

Juul announced Wednesday that CEO Kevin Burns will be replaced by K.C. Crosthwaite, who had been chief growth officer at tobacco company Altria (MO), a major investor in Juul. In that position, Crosthwaite oversaw an expansion into alternatives to traditional cigarettes. He also played a key role with commercial and regulatory efforts related to the US launch of iQOS, a device that heats tobacco rather than burning it.

In recent months there have been nine US deaths tied to vaping and e-cigarettes, and the Centers for Disease Control said that as of September 17 there have been 530 cases of lung injury associated with those products. The CDC has not identified any one company or vaping product as responsible for any of the deaths and injuries though.

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