Marlboro owner Altria’s big gamble on vaping is not panning out as well as hoped. The cigarette giant announced Thursday it was taking a $4.5 billion writedown on its investment in Juul.
Altria invested $12.8 billion for a 35% stake in Juul in 2018. The deal quickly went south as concerns mounted about the health risks of vaping and US regulators pushed for a crackdown on e-cigarettes. Juul was also criticized for selling pods with flavors like mango, creme and cucumber that became popular with teens.
Juul CEO Kevin Burns stepped down last month and was replaced by Altria executive K.C. Crosthwaite. Since then, Juul said that it will end the sale of its flavored products in the US. And the company announced another management shakeup earlier this week.
The problems at Juul have taken a toll on Altria. The stock is down more than 5% this year and the company abandoned talks about a possible reunification with Philip Morris, which sells Marlboro and other cigarettes internationally, last month. Altria had spun off Philip Morris in 2008.
The company is going ahead with plans to sell iQOS, a Philip Morris e-cigarette product that heats tobacco but does not burn it.
Altria is taking other steps to diversify beyond cigarettes.
It bought a majority stake in oral nicotine pouch on! earlier this year. Altria also has a 45% stake in Canadian cannabis company Cronos and is a significant investor in beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev.
“We continue to believe the evolution of the tobacco industry represents a significant opportunity for Altria,” said the company’s chairman and CEO Howard Willard in a statement.
“We marked major milestones in our transformation journey this year, including launching IQOS and completing the on! transaction. We believe that, with current adult smoker trends and e-vapor disruption, it’s an opportune time to expand the availability of these options,” Willard added.
Altria reported earnings and revenue Thursday that topped forecasts. The stock rose 2% on the news.