The CEO of Juul is out, as a growing number of vaping-related deaths and threats of federal regulation present a monumental challenge for the e-cigarette company.
Juul announced Wednesday that CEO Kevin Burns will be replaced by K.C. Crosthwaite, who had been chief growth officer at tobacco company Altria, a major investor in Juul. In that position, Crosthwaite oversaw an expansion into alternatives to traditional cigarettes. He also played a key role with commercial and regulatory efforts related to the US launch of iQOS, a device that heats tobacco rather than burning it.
Altria bought a 35% stake in Juul last year for about $13 billion.
Juul and other makers of vaping products are facing a crisis. A growing number of deaths and illnesses tied to their products has alarmed health advocates and regulators. Several states are moving to ban their use.
The company also said Wednesday it has a new marketing strategy: It will suspend all TV, print and digital ads and it will stop some of its lobbying efforts. The company said it is committing to fully support and comply with any new federal policy related to vaping products. The US Food and Drug Administration is weighing regulations to ban all flavored e-cigarettes, which some consider particularly attractive to young users.
Last week Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, announced it would no longer sell vaping products.
"I have long believed in a future where adult smokers overwhelmingly choose alternative products like Juul," said Crosthwaite. "Unfortunately, today that future is at risk due to unacceptable levels of youth usage and eroding public confidence in our industry. Against that backdrop, we must strive to work with regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders, and earn the trust of the societies in which we operate."
Juul was founded by Adam Bowen and James Monsees, and was incorporated in 2015. Burns became CEO after having previously worked as president and chief operating officer of Chobani.
"Kevin transformed our start-up into a global business, and we are incredibly grateful for his commitment to and passion for our mission," said Bowen and Monsees.