In December of 2018, Altria, manufacturer of Marlboro products and one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, made a risky play and took a 35% interest in the vaping company Juul Labs at a cost of $12.8 billion. Over its three years of existence, Juul had climbed its way to become the dominant e-cigarette company, claiming 75% of the quickly emerging market.
On October 31, 2019, Altria cut the book value of its investment by $4.5 billion amid growing concerns about the safety of vaping. Governmental agencies have initiated investigations into several areas, including rampant use of vaping products by teenagers, concerns about health risks unique to vaping, and a string of deaths that some are attributing to vaping products. Juul has also found itself defending against several lawsuits, which are likely the opening salvo in a barrage of similar suits.
One lawsuit is a claim of whistleblower retaliation. Siddharth Breja, Juul’s former vice president of global finance, alleged the company had shipped over one million contaminated mint e-liquid pods to retailers. Breja alleges executive management refused to issue a recall despite his urging.