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One of Juul’s Co-Inventors Is Leaving the Company

A co-inventor of Juul Labs Inc.’s e-cigarette left the company on Monday, people familiar with the matter said.

Cole Hatton, who was Juul’s principal engineer, was one of the firm’s first employees. He’s also named on the patent for the Juul device as a co-inventor, along with the company’s co-founders, Adam Bowen and James Monsees. The move comes just days after the departure of Guy Cartwright, a senior executive in charge of leading a $1 billion restructuring of the company, and less than a month after Monsees announced that he was leaving the Silicon Valley startup that he helped build.

Hatton didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The personnel changes come amid a transformation underway at e-cigarette company that began in December 2018 when tobacco giant Altria Group Inc. paid $12.8 billion for a third of the company. Several executives from Altria have since assumed leadership positions at Juul. K.C. Crosthwaite, a former top Altria executive, is now Juul’s chief executive officer, and Joe Murillo, a former Altria lawyer, is its chief regulatory officer.

Juul, which launched its vaping device in the summer of 2015 and rapidly became one of the world’s biggest e-cigarette companies, is at a critical juncture. The company is preparing a required application for the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization to keep its product on the market. The current deadline for that filing from all e-cigarette makers is May 12, 2020, but the FDA has asked a federal judge for an extension due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Federal Trade Commission announced last week that it is suing to reverse Altria’s investment in Juul because of what it says was anticompetitive conduct in how the deal was transacted. Both companies have vowed to fight the FTC, which has thrown the two companies’ tie-up into doubt.

The San Francisco firm has been in a near-constant state of crisis since since public-health advocates and regulators blamed it for helping touch off a youth vaping epidemic with its popular but controversial product. More than 5 million youth reported using e-cigarettes last year, with the majority saying their “usual brand” was Juul, according to the latest National Youth Tobacco Survey.

Lauren Etter/Bloomberg