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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Juul, the maker of vaping devices and nicotine flavor pods that dominate college and (yes) high school campuses, is raising $1.2 billion at a valuation of around $15 billion.

Bloomberg was first with the news on Friday, and Axios has learned that it's basically a done deal that could be announced within just a week or two. We've also obtained some company financials, which helps explain the investor appeal.

The following numbers come from late last year, and word is that Juul is blasting through its 2018 projections:

  • 2017 revenue was around $245 million, with a 54/46 split between product (devices) and subscription (pods). This is up from around $60 million in 2016, and projected 2018 revenue was $940 million.
  • Gross margins are 70%
  • 2018 EBITDA projection is approximately $250 million.

Such numbers would normally make Juul a no-brainer for venture capital and growth equity types, particularly given that the San Francisco-based company hasn't yet tapped overseas markets other than Israel. But this one is complicated:

  • Ethical con: Juul contains a ton of nicotine. Specifically, each Juul pod is the nicotine equivalent of an entire pack of regular cigarettes. This can make it very addictive, and also may create cardiovascular issues for older users and brain development issues for younger ones. Moreover, there has been academic research showing that young people using e-cigs are more likely to begin smoking regular cigarettes than are those who don't use e-cigs. That research isn't specific to Juul, but Juul's design and flavoring makes it the e-cig of choice for those who aren't legally allowed to have them.
  • Ethical pro: Juul is used by some regular cigarette smokers as a cessation tool, and there is some Juul-funded research that points to its efficacy. It also has taken steps to reduce its visibility among young people, including via social media, and says it has online ordering limits to prevent black market sales to underage users.

Bottom line: As we said, this deal is getting done because the growth almost demands it. But don't be surprised if it doesn't include traditional VC or growth equity investors.

  • Some funds are knocked out because of tobacco restrictions, while others won't think the possible risks — both ethical and regulatory — are worth the reward at such a high valuation.
  • I don't have any inside info on the actual investors, but would guess there would be some non-U.S. names (particularly because of the int'l expansion plans). Also could be interesting to see if TPG becomes involved, given that Juul CEO Kevin Burns is a former TPG exec who previously helped lead portfolio company Chobani.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

4 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.