Marlboro maker Altria caves to FDA; stops selling flavored vapes

The Altria Group, one of Big Tobacco’s most profitable companies worldwide, has recently announced that it is pulling all flavored vape products from store shelves effective immediately.  Citing mounting public pressure by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amid accusations of “kid-appealing” marketing practices within the vaping industry in general, Altria appears to have waved the proverbial white flag of surrender, at least temporarily.

In a report posted on Marketwatch just yesterday, Altria’s top-selling flavored cigalike products of MarkTen and Green Smoke will be disappearing from convenience store shelves.  The MarkTen pod-based products will also be discontinued until such time that the FDA can approve the now-required Premarket Tobacco Application (PMTA) related to theses products.  It should also be noted that according to the draft guidance or FDA deeming regulations of May 2016, the PMTA process has not yet been finalized, seemingly placing all vaping companies – including Altria - in a sort of regulatory limbo for the near future.

Related Article:  New FDA e-cig regulations and the million-dollar PMTA process

The move seems to be a direct response to the September 12 press announcement in which FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb specifically targets  MarkTen, JUUL, Vuse, blu e-cigs, and Logic as possibly being complicit in the alleged rise in teen vaping over the past year through suspect advertising practices.  Although the FDA has not yet released evidence to support these statistics, Gottlieb still labeled teen vaping as a national “epidemic.”

What does this mean for the American vaping industry?

In the days since the September 12 press release, Gottlieb has been on a mainstream media rampage, blasting flavored vapes as a public health crisis.  He’s appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box multiple times and more recently in a televised live interview on C-SPAN2 in which he suggested a federal ban on all vaping products may be imminent.  In many of these interviews, Gottlieb’s chief gripes seem to be targeted directly at JUUL, which has agreed to cooperate in the FDA’s investigation into kid-friendly marketing practices. 

Related Article: Citing teen vaping as an ‘epidemic,’ FDA Chief Scott Gottlieb launches investigation

Just last week, the FDA further announced that another 21 companies would be remanded to participate in the new FDA probe.  While Altria agreed to cooperate in the investigation way back in September, the Big Tobacco company has now made the controversial decision to voluntarily pull its flavor vaping products from store shelves.  JUUL has not, nor have any of the other 24 vapor companies involved in the probe.

Conspiracy theories are already surfacing on social media.  One of the more noteworthy suggests that Altria is playing a game of chicken with JUUL and other competitors.  As a member of Big Tobacco, Altria has very deep pockets and loads of political clout.  JUUL does not, and since JUUL seems to be the primary target of Gottlieb’s ire, Altria may be simply trying to wait it out until the FDA angst dissipates while scoring some political points with Gottlieb in the meantime.   

Related Article:  FDA now targeting convenience stores in multi-prong plan to kill vaping

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

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