Altria Group Inc announced on Thursday it would also be discontinuing the sale of most of its flavored e-cigarettes in response to the US Food and Drink Administration’s (FDA) drive to stop underage vaping.
Altria’s brands, MarketTen Elite and Apex, represent just nine per cent of the American market, which is dominated by Juul Labs, currently under fire for sparking a so-called “epidemic” of vaping use among teenagers.
But critics say Altria has more to gain than lose by pulling some of it’s vape products.
Changes by Altria include taking its MarkTen pod-based products off the shelves as well as halting sales of all flavors, except for menthol, mint and tobacco, in its “cig-a-like” products until the FDA reviews and approves them. Cig-a-like devices are designed to look like a cigarette and are said to be less popular with young vapers.
The company confirmed that after the changes, 80 per cent of its e-cigarette volume will remain on the market.
Altria is one of five manufactures which was ordered by the FDA in September, along with Juul, British American Tobacco‘s Vuse, Imperial Brands‘ Blu E-cigs and Japan Tobacco‘s Logic, to submit plans within 60 days on reducing teen use and is the first to publicly respond.
Unlike some of its rivals – such as Juul which makes up 62 per cent of the US e-cigarette market – news of it dropping several of its products will make little dent in its earnings since they make up a small fraction of its $25.6 billion revenue.
Critics have slammed the move saying that it is in fact a way of trying to put pressure on its rival Juul to follow suit and eliminate its flavored pod products, which would have disastrous consequences.
Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, tweeted after the news broke: “Altria is clearly trying to put pressure on @JUULvapor, which is the current number one threat to its dominant position in the cigarette market. What a crock.”
Charles A. Gardner of the Foundation For A Smoke-Free World added: “Altria has deep pockets and can just wait this out while JUUL withers away under regulatory and advocacy pressures.”
The FDA, meanwhile, is convinced that it is flavors in vape which is attracting young people to vaping and is considering a number of ways to curb underage sales – including selling flavored e-cigarettes in vape stores only.
Last week, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told America’s CNBC that he believes vape stores are better at checking ID from customers and is considering confining some e-cigarette sales, specifically flavored products, to specialist shops and disallowing them in stores such as 7-Eleven and Circle K.
He said: “We’re looking at what can be sold in brick-and-mortar stores and whether or not flavored products can be sold in regular stores like a 7-Eleven and a truck stop and a gas station, or whether or not flavored products on the market should be confined to adult vaping shops, which generally tend to do a better job of checking ID.”