Juul, the coolest vape for teens, is starting a new chapter in its life. The e-cigarette company that began with the mission of helping to curb cigarette smoking–before accidentally kick-starting a teen vaping boom–just sold part of itself to Altria, the old-school tobacco parent company behind Parliaments, Marlboros, and Virginia Slims.
Altria invested $12.8 billion in the company, enough for a 35% stake, which values Juul at a whopping $38 billion, despite regulation, lawsuits, and a government crackdown on its marketing practices. When rumors of the sale circulated last month, employees at Juul who signed on to work at a smoking reduction company were said to be vaping mad, reportedly calling the Altria investment a “deal with the devil.” Now according to CNBC, Altria agreed to pay a $2 billion bonus to Juul–newfound wealth it will reportedly share with its 1,500 workers, averaging about $1.3 million each. No word on whether any employees will pass up the payout on principle.
We reached out to Juul for comment and will update if we hear back.
This is a big shift from the kind of partner founder Kevin Burns hoped to find for the company, telling us for a story in our November issue (you know, last month) that Juul was hoping to get an investment from someone like the Gates Foundation. “What I love about [Gates] is they’re not talking about policy, they’re handing out vaccinations for deadly diseases that they’re trying to eradicate off the face of the earth in a very pragmatic way,” he said. “That’s exactly what we need to do. We need to get the product in adult smokers’ hands.”
Apparently, the road from Bill Gates to the Marlboro Man is shorter than we thought.