RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Altria Group — the parent company of Philip Morris USA — has sold off its remaining shares in Juul Labs in exchange for intellectual property rights that could lead to the development of new tobacco products by Altria.
According to a press release on Altria’s website, the company has exchanged the remaining entirety of its stake in Juul Labs for a “non-exclusive, irrevocable global license to certain of [Juul’s] heated tobacco intellectual property.”
In 2018, Altria — one of the largest employers in Richmond — paid $12.8 billion for a 35% stake in Juul. In October 2022, however, it was reported that the investment had lost more than 95% of its value — owed in part to Juul being at the center of repeated controversy. The release on March 3, 2023, explains that the estimated fair value of the company’s remaining stake in Juul had decreased to $250 million.
“We believe exchanging our Juul ownership for intellectual property rights is the appropriate path forward for our business,” said Billy Gifford, Altria’s Chief Executive Officer. “[Juul] faces significant regulatory and legal challenges and uncertainties, many of which could exist for many years. We are continuing to explore all options for how we can best compete in the e-vapor category.”
In October 2022, Altria announced that it would be partnering with Japan Tobacco and Philip Morris International in an effort to bring a heat-not-burn cigarette to the U.S. market. The exchange of Juul stock for certain intellectual property rights appears to indicate that Altria intends to develop a heated tobacco product and still be a player in this market.
Altria claims that these actions are part of its years-long efforts to shift the business away from cigarettes — an initiative pushed by the steady decline in smoking.