Juul announced Thursday it is immediately suspending sales of it popular fruity e-cigarette flavors ahead of a Trump administration policy that is expected to remove all flavored e-cigarettes from the market.
Juul last year stopped selling its flavored e-cigarettes in retail stores amid pressure from the Food and Drug Administration. Customers could only get the flavors creme, mango, fruit, cucumber on its age-restricted website.
Trump administration officials said they would remove all flavored pods, including mint and menthol, leaving only tobacco flavored e-cigarettes on the market. Juul said it will continue selling its mint and menthol nicotine pods in the meantime. The company said its new policy is effective immediately.
"We continue to review our policies and practices in advance of FDA's flavor guidance and have not made any final decisions," Juul spokesman Austin Finan said in a statement. "We are refraining from lobbying the administration on its draft flavor guidance and will fully support and comply with the final policy when effective."
Amid a teen vaping epidemic and an outbreak of a deadly vaping-related lung disease, the Trump administration last month said it was readying to remove all flavored e-cigarettes from the market until the FDA reviews them and authorizes them to return to shelves. Administration officials at the time said the plan would be released within weeks. They have yet to produce one.
Juul has been largely blamed for creating a teen vaping epidemic. The company's sales have soared over the past few years alongside rates of middle school and high school students who say they use e-cigarettes. Juul has tried to overhaul its image as a company that is willing to work with regulators and lawmakers.
Tobacco giant Altria invested $12.8 billion for a 35% stake in Juul late last year. The company replaced Juul CEO Kevin Burns with longtime Altria executive KC Crosthwaite, who hired fellow Altria executive Jose Luis Murillo oversee Juul's regulatory strategy.
Juul tried to position its decision to stop selling most of its flavors as a sign of its commitment to change.
"We must reset the vapor category by earning the trust of society and working cooperatively with regulators, policymakers, and stakeholders to combat underage use while providing an alternative to adult smokers," Crosthwaite said in a statement.
Critics quickly pounced on Juul's decision to continue selling mint.
"Juul's announcement today that it is leaving mint and menthol flavors on the market shows that it hasn't changed one bit under its new leadership and isn't serious about preventing youth use," Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matthew Myers said in a statement.
Among high school students who vape, mint and menthol was the second-most popular flavor behind fruit, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey. Wells Fargo analysts estimate that flavors, including mint and menthol, represent about 80% of Juul's roughly $3.3 billion in sales over the past year.
Correction: This article was updated to correct that it was the Trump administration that called for removing all flavors except tobacco from the market.