Juul Labs is in talks with leading cigarette manufacturers about a partnership, alliance or sale of its business, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Juul executives have had separate discussions with Philip Morris International, Japan Tobacco and Altria Group, according to the newspaper.
The talks are at an early stage and might not result in a sale of partnership, The Wall Street Journal’s sources pointed out. Altria, which owns one-third of Juul, valued the vaping company at $1 billion in October.
Once the undisputed leader of the U.S. vape market, Juul reached the brink of bankruptcy last year after the Food and Drug Administration denied its marketing applications and ordered the company to remove its products from the market.
The order has been stayed pending appeal but the still-unresolved dispute made it difficult for Juul to raise money to cover its legal liabilities. In December Juul agreed to pay $1.7 billion in a broad legal settlement covering more than 5,000 lawsuits accusing the company of marketing its products to teens and children. Juul denies targeting underage consumers.
To pay for the deal, Juul secured an equity investment from a group including two Juul directors. The settlement and financing put Juul on firmer ground and allowed the company to begin talks with potential strategic partners.
On Sept. 30 Altria announced it was ending its noncompete agreement with Juul. The decision gave Juul the freedom to sell itself—or a significant stake—to one of Altria’s competitors.
Altria can’t buy Juul outright because of antitrust concerns: The Federal Trade Commission is seeking to unwind Altria’s 2018 investment in Juul. Altria and Japan Tobacco in October formed a partnership to develop and sell heated-tobacco devices in the U.S. and other new tobacco products abroad.
If the FDA ultimately halts Juul’s sales, Juul could seek U.S. authorization for a newer version of its vaporizer that has been released in Canada and the U.K. Juul also has other products under development.