LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - In the wake of hundreds of people becoming ill from e-cigarettes, Juul, the dominant e-cigarette company faces an uncertain future.
Juul announced a new manufacturing plant right here in the Midlands just a few months ago, but Juul officials have talked this week about restructuring the company in the wake of the public outcry and said they will consider reducing their 3,800 member workforce.
The CEO of the company stepped down today and Philip Morris and others have ended merger talks.
However, a Juul spokesperson said Wednesday that they are continuing to move forward with their hiring events and look forward to coming to Lexington County.
Juul announced in May that a new assembly and packaging plant was coming to Lexington County, boosting South Carolina’s economy by about $125 million and creating 500 jobs.
“I think people are always going to be excited about jobs,” Republican state Senator Katrina Shealy said. “I think it is going to have an impact, what we are seeing in the news, a plant coming to the area that may impact people’s health.”
Juul officials said they are continuing hiring efforts in Lexington, but South Carolina State Senator Katrina Shealy said the new plant poses concerns for people living in the Midlands.
“They’re not giving out samples, they are going to be shipping them off, it’s a manufacturing plant, but it’s still like you are almost encouraging it so we still need to take it seriously,” Senator Shealy said.
Much of the public criticism has centered on whether Juul has marketed to teenagers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that more than 80 of the 530 people who have had e-cigarette-related illnesses have been under the age of 18.
“I think we as citizens have to make sure our young people aware of the serious impact it has on their lives,” Senator Shealy said.
Governor Henry McMaster said last week that making sure regulations are upheld is key at this point.
“I know the House and the Senate and teachers and parents are all watching to determine what if anything needs to be done,” Governor McMaster said. “What we insist on is that people follow the law for any kind of sales including these and you must be 18 in order to buy those products in South Carolina.”
Many states have already taken action against e-cigarettes. Massachusetts recently announced a four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products.
Senator Shealy said that at this time the state legislature is not considering this ban, but it will be a topic of conversation when session resumes in January.
Juul said it won’t fight the Trump administration’s proposal to ban most flavored e-cigarettes, but Juul officials estimate that company sales would be reduced by 80 percent initially.
Both Juul and the Lexington County Council officials declined to comment about timelines for the plant opening.