The CEO of Juul Labs has stepped down, and the e-cigarette company has suspended advertising as it remains embroiled in a crisis over its vaping products.
Kevin Burns, who had apologized for the nation's teen vaping epidemic, resigned effective immediately, Juul announced Wednesday. Juul investor Altria Group, maker of Marlboro cigarettes, said it was a "decision by Juul" for Burns to go.
K.C. Crosthwaite, Altria's senior vice president and chief strategy and growth officer, will leave his current position to become CEO of Juul.
Also Wednesday, Altria announced that its merger talks with Philip Morris International, which sells Marlboro and other products in foreign markets, had ended.
What's more, Juul announced it would suspend all of its broadcast, print and digital ads in the U.S. And Juul committed to refrain from lobbying the Trump administration on new vaping laws under consideration, saying it will "fully support and comply with the final policy when effective."
Taken together, the developments mark the latest chapter in a period of upheaval for the cigarette industry, which has been roiled by regulatory scrutiny of e-cigarettes amid concerns about deaths and sicknesses tied to vaping.
At least 530 people have had cases of vaping-related lung illnesses, according to the CDC. At least nine people have died. Federal and state investigators are focusing on vape cartridges that likely contained contaminated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. But they are also looking at all substances used in electronic cigarettes, including those with nicotine.
Altria had bet big on its investment in Juul, which soared for a time on the strength of flavored vaping liquids. But a federal government ban on most vaping flavors, concerns about teenage usage and scrutiny of the broader health implications have undermined the product.
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In his new post, Crosthwaite "will continue a broad review of the company's practices and policies to ensure alignment with its aim of responsible leadership within the industry," Juul said in a statement.
Crosthwaite said he has "long believed in a future where adult smokers overwhelmingly choose alternative products" like Juul but acknowledged "that future is at risk due to unacceptable levels of youth usage and eroding public confidence in our industry."
"Against that backdrop, we must strive to work with regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders, and earn the trust of the societies in which we operate," Crosthwaite said. "That includes inviting an open dialogue, listening to others and being responsive to their concerns."
Outgoing CEO Burns said he's "very proud of my team's efforts to lead the industry toward much needed category-wide action to tackle underage usage of these products, which are intended for adult smokers only."
Contributing: Jayne O'Donnell
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Juul CEO resigns, US ads suspended as vaping crisis continues