Lotta news today, friends! Lotta...shake-ups. For example: Kevin Burns, heretofore the CEO of embattled vape giant Juul, abdicated his role on Wednesday. Under fire from many sides, Burns seemed to suggest that — having accomplished his original mission — now was the time for him to step down.
In a statement, he explained that he had "worked non-stop" since joining Juul Labs in 2017, "helping turn a small firm into a worldwide business."
"A few weeks ago I decided that now was the right time for me to step down," Burns's statement read. "Working at JUUL Labs has been an honor and I still believe the company’s mission of eliminating combustible cigarettes is vitally important. I am very proud of my team’s efforts to lead the industry toward much needed category-wide action to tackle underage usage of these products, which are intended for adult smokers only."
The departure comes at a time of great upheaval for Juul, arguably the biggest name in vaping and therefore, a magnet for much ire at the moment. Across the country, at least nine people have died from a mysterious, and by all accounts vape-related, lung disease that has sickened hundreds in recent months. The culprit there would appear to be Vitamin E acetate, a thickening agent sometimes added to counterfeit THC cartridges, rather than nicotine-based vape juice.
Even so, criticism of Juul has snowballed lately, as individual states (New York chief among them) pursue bans on flavored e-cigarettes, and the Food and Drug Administration weighs outlawing them at the federal level. While Juul has historically insisted that it exists to help nicotine-addicted adults quit cigarettes when no other anti-smoking products work, its sweet flavors — like mango, creme, fruit — seem better suited to juvenile palates. And indeed, the wide availability of flavors like "bubble gum, cotton candy, [and] Scooby Doo," as our governor recently put it, may help explain why so many teens vape these days. Unfortunately, nicotine is addictive however it's flavored, stoking fears that e-cigs have hooked underage users, potentially driving them toward traditional cigarettes.
There are lawsuits. Federal prosecutors in California are conducting a criminal investigation into Juul's allegedly teen-targeting marketing tactics. Factor in the as-yet unknown health consequences potentially associated with inhaling chemical vapors, and the scope of this shitstorm really comes into focus.
K.C. Crosthwaite, formerly a senior vice president of Big Tobacco company Altria, will replace Burns, effective immediately. Altria owns Marlboro, and also 35 percent of Juul, complicating the question of whether or not the vape manufacturer deliberately tried to start kids on nicotine to, some might say, ensure future customers. In his statement, Burns said Crosthwaite's professional experience made him "well-suited to the next phase of the company’s journey," which, yes: top tobacco execs probably know a thing or two about rebranding a badly tarnished image.
In any case, the retirement announcement from Juul came with a pledge that the company will stop running print, digital, and broadcast advertisements, and also that its lobbyists will not interfere with Congressional efforts to take flavored e-cigs off the market.
All in all, it's a logical move for a company that's maybe, just ever so slightly backed into a corner. Then again, you can tell people whatever version of the story you want, it'll never stop the rumor mill from turning.
Honestly, it all kinda adds up.