Altria has been under pressure from the FDA and the general public in reaction to the so-called “teen vaping epidemic“. In response to the growing criticism, the tobacco giant has agreed to pull some of their most popular e-cigarette brands from the market because they appeal to kids.
What did Altria announce?
The company announced that they will stop selling all flavored e-cigarettes and that they are discontinuing some brands entirely. The company also said that they will now support federal legislation to raise the vaping and tobacco purchase age to 21, a reversal of their previous position.
Of course, it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room: IQOS. Altria has exclusive United States distribution rights for the heat-not-burn device, manufactured by Phillip Morris International. Daniel Mollenkamp of ECigIntelligence has the following to say about Altria’s move:
Altria’s third-quarter results put the company’s commitments to the FDA into perspective. It is notable not only that Altria currently holds less than 5% of the total US e-cig market, but that more than 80% of Nu Mark’s e-vapour volume on the market in this past quarter will, in the company’s own words, “remain on the market”. Moreover, Philip Morris International (PMI)’s IQOS is inching closer to the US market, where it will be sold by Altria.
The move to drop these unpopular lines of pod-based and disposable e-cigarettes could be not only a public relations move, but also a practical business decision. Since e-cigarettes are currently the target of intense criticism by the media and FDA, their heat-not-burn counterparts are being looked at as a possible smoking cessation tool by the FDA. The IQOS still hasn’t been approved for sale in the United States, but Phillip Morris has submitted an application to sell it as a modified risk tobacco product.
What is the FDA doing?
The FDA has been hellbent on forcing manufacturers and retailers to stop marketing their products to underage customers. The FDA has announced that they are looking into options to regulate the industry, such as banning flavors that appeal to kids or even banning online sales of e-cigarettes entirely. As of now they have been demanding that the industry self-regulate before the FDA takes any of these actions. It remains to be seen what effect these recent actions have had on the rate of underage vaping.
Most of the FDA’s recent actions revolve around Juul Labs, the maker of the popular pod-based e-cigarette. The brand has been extremely popular amongst underage vapers, with many critics accusing the company of deliberately marketing to this demographic. The FDA is very critical of Juul’s marketing. Many of the previous advertisements featured young models rather than former smokers. In response to the FDA’s criticism, the company changed their advertising strategy. All Juul ads now feature older models who are actual former smokers, as opposed to the young and glamorous models in past ad campaigns.
It’s likely that Altria is looking to avoid the same type of aggressive action from the FDA by preemptively removing some of these controversial products from the market.