Juul has a new program to pitch its e-cigarette to companies and insurers who want to help their employees stop smoking cigarettes as the company continues to stave off criticism that its product has caused an epidemic in teen smoking.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has blamed the teen vaping epidemic on Juul. The company over the past year has tried to overhaul its image and prove that it’s really a health-focused company that wants to “improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes,” as its website claims.
Smoking-related illness in the U.S. costs more than $300 billion between direct medical costs and lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Employers footing the bills are searching for ways to get their employees to give up cigarettes. Of adult smokers who try to quit, just about 7.4 percent succeed, according to CDC survey data.
E-cigarettes are billed as a way for people to get their nicotine fix without all the harm that comes with inhaling burned tobacco. The United Kingdom has aggressively encouraged smokers to switch to the devices, citing research showing they’re significantly less riskier than combustible cigarettes. But doctors and health experts in the U.S. have been wary of recommending people switch to the devices, citing the unknown long-term risks.
“Many employers have embraced cessation as a benefit as it’s one of the top areas where they repeat benefits for employees,” said Wende Hutton, a general partner at Canaan and investor in Chrono Therapeutics, a company developing a digital nicotine replacement therapy. “And employees who smoke and are able to quit see health impacts very quickly.”
But not everyone is convinced that employers will bite.
“I don’t think they want solutions that’ll move employees from smoking to e-cigarettes,” said Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, which represents large employers.
Marcotte also said that while smoking cessation programs are important, and many employers already offer one, so finding alternatives isn’t a top priority. Employers are more focused on curbing pharmacy costs and finding support for workers’ mental health, he said.
Juul will also need to change minds that its e-cigarettes can actually be helpful. Taking a $12.8 billion investment from Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes might hurt Juul’s credibility. Although Juul might soon sell more than e-cigarettes and introduce other products like nicotine gum and counseling services.
The company has not announced any partnerships so far, though it’s in active conversations with private and public employers and multiple large veterans organizations.