Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration:Aïda Amer/Axios

Vaping giant Juul is facing employee resistance to a proposed investment by Altria Group, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, according to internal messages obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The deal could value Juul at around $30 billion, and be a big first step toward cigarette sector consolidation.

Details: Axios has learned that Altria first approached Juul near the beginning of 2018, offering to invest in the company or even buy it outright for around $5 billion.

  • Juul rebuffed the initial interest, but Altria remained persistent, regularly coming back with higher price points.
  • In July, Juul raised $1.2 billion at a valuation of around $15 billion, in a round led by Fidelity Investments. Axios reported that revenue had jumped from $60 million in 2016 to $245 million in 2017, with expectations of getting close to $1 billion this year.
  • In September, the Food and Drug Administration said it was considering new regulations on the sale of e-cigarettes, due to their use by teenagers. Juul at the time was quietly in talks to raise a new funding round at a valuation of at least $20 billion — most likely from hedge funds and similar types of investors — but put those discussions on hold until the FDA situation was resolved.
  • The FDA earlier this month banned most retail sales of "flavored" e-cigarette pods, including Juul's most popular product (mango), and also required increased online age verification.
  • Discussions with Altria remain fluid, and may not result in a transaction. The $30 billion valuation is said to be a "ballpark" figure.

Juul might have appeared to be less valuable after the FDA rules, but a source says that the FDA's action created less regulatory risk going forward without affecting basic product design or margins. Thus the price premium being discussed with Altria.

The opposition: Many Juul employees were surprised to learn about the talks with Altria, which was first reported on Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, according to screenshots of internal Slack messages that were obtained by Axios.

  • Some employees initially doubted the veracity of the news reports, with one suggesting it was a phony leak concocted by Altria to boost its stock price.
  • Among those who believed the reports, concerns mostly revolved about how Juul would be making a "deal with the devil." It would be antithetical to Juul's mission of helping smokers quit combustible cigarettes, they argued, thus making it more difficult to retain existing employees and recruit new ones.

Juul CEO Kevin Burns sent a company-wide email Wednesday confirming "significant interest" from prospective investors, but declining to comment on what he referred to as media "speculation" over Altria.

A Juul spokesman declined comment.

Go deeper

Pompeo, wife misused State Dept. resources, federal watchdog finds

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The State Department's independent watchdog found that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo violated federal ethics rules when he and his wife asked department employees to perform personal tasks on more than 100 occasions, including picking up their dog and making private dinner reservations.

Why it matters: The report comes as Pompeo pours money into a new political group amid speculation about a possible 2024 presidential run.

Dead malls get new life

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Malls are becoming ghosts of retail past. But the left-behind real estate is being reimagined for a post-pandemic world.

Why it matters: As many as 17% of malls in the U.S. "may no longer be viable as shopping centers and need to be redeveloped into other uses," per Barclays.