Altria is reportedly in talks to take a minority stake in Juul

  • Altria is in talks to take a significant minority stake e-cigarette company Juul, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
  • Juul's popularity has surged over the past year.
  • That attention has attracted regulatory scrutiny, including from Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
A Juul vaping system with accessory pods in varying flavors on May, 02, 2018 in Washington, DC. 
Bill O'Leary | The Washington Post | Getty Images
A Juul vaping system with accessory pods in varying flavors on May, 02, 2018 in Washington, DC. 

Altria is in talks to take a significant minority stake in e-cigarette company Juul, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

Any deal is likely several weeks away, The Wall Street Journal reported. Juul was last valued at $16 billion in a private fundraising round this summer.

A tie-up between the two companies could give Juul experience that Altria has gained through decades of regulation and litigation while giving Altria a jolt in revenue. However, a deal would mark a significant shift for Juul, which has repeatedly distanced itself from Big Tobacco companies like Altria.

Juul declined to comment. Altria said it doesn't comment on "rumors and speculation."

Juul's popularity has surged over the past year. That attention has attracted regulatory scrutiny. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has threatened to pull e-cigarettes off the market if the agency's new restrictions on the sale of fruity flavors don't slow an "astonishing" surge in teen use.

Meanwhile, cigarette sales have declined as older smokers are dying and fewer young people are starting to smoke. Last year, cigarette smoking in the U.S. fell to its lowest point in recorded history last year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Altria sells its own e-cigarettes, including MarkTen and Green Smoke, though they make up only a fraction of its $25.6 billion in revenue. Juul commands the e-cigarette market, holding about 75 percent of share, according to Nielsen numbers compiled by Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog.

But parents, teachers and now regulators are demanding Juul stop what the FDA has labeled an "epidemic" of teen e-cigarette use. In response to regulatory pressure, Juul in November said it will halt selling most of its flavored nicotine pods for its e-cigarettes in retail stores.

In October, Altria said it will remove its MarkTen pod-based products and will stop selling all flavors except for menthol or tobacco in its cig-a-like products until the FDA reviews and approves them.

In addition to cracking down on e-cigarettes, the FDA is also pursuing a ban on menthol cigarettes. It could take years to finalize and implement a rule, which tobacco companies are sure to fight, but the possibility has weighed on tobacco stocks.

Read the full Wall Street Journal report here.