That's all well and good. And yet several months from now, the company's products will be illegal in its own hometown.
San Francisco has passed new legislation banning e-cigarette sales within the city limits—which is one of 11 things you need to know from the past week:
1. Up in smokeIn its new ordinance, San Francisco laid out a pretty clear argument for its vaporizer crackdown. After years of decline, the number of middle- and high-school students who report using tobacco products ticked up sharply in 2018. The number of adolescent e-cigarette users has experienced a concurrent leap. Ergo, the city attributes much of the rise in underage smoking to the popularity of vape pens.
The ordinance doesn't mention Juul by name, but it doesn't really have to. Juul has emerged as the poster child of the nascent e-cigarette space, for better or worse. The better, of course, is all the money the company is making. The worse is that it often finds itself facing off against a veritable fire hose of criticism.
You can't say Juul isn't trying. San Francisco's new legislation points specifically to e-cigarettes being "marketed in a variety of flavors with obvious appeal to youth, such as gummy bear, cotton candy, and fruit punch." Late last year, Juul announced plans to stop selling most of its flavored pods in physical stores. Which is good! But it didn't happen without pressure from the FDA. And it hasn't stopped a flurry of lawsuits from arriving on Juul's doorstep, accusing the company of intentionally targeting teens.
And is the company's new marketing plan really that much better? In recent months, Juul has rolled out a campaign featuring starkly lit scenes of very adult users talking about how much their lives improved when they switched over from smoking cigarettes. Juul is presenting itself as a healthier way to consume nicotine. Which, as The Atlantic recently pointed out, is something the tobacco industry has seen before.
Perhaps there's only so much a company can do for its public image when it's selling a highly addictive product. The investor behind Juul's sky-high valuation likely won't care: That would be the cigarette giant that's also behind Philip Morris, Altria, which invested $12.8 billion in Juul late last year at a reported $38 billion valuation.
Juul has several other backers, as well, including Tiger Global and Fidelity Investments. So far, however, big-name VCs have largely shied away, likely in no small part because of the controversies that always seem to surround the company. With San Francisco's ban, it's hard to see that changing anytime soon.