Altria Tumbles To 5 Year Low As Mystery Vaping Disease Cases Rise To 530

Altria stock, which already had a disappointing 2019, tumbled to fresh five year lows after the CDC announced during a Thursday briefing that 530 people have fallen ill from the mysterious vaping-related lung ailment that has raised alarms across the U.S., up from 380 "confirmed and probable cases" that the government reported last week. Worse, no less than seven people have already died from the mystery illness. Officials said they still hadn’t determined a cause of the ailment, and that there didn’t appear to be one product or substance involved in all instances. Cases have been identified in 38 states.

After hitting the market with a bang with the implicit endorsement of both regulators and established tobacco companies, vaping has found itself under fire from all sides, especially now that it was unveiled that vaping addicts tend to shift to traditional cigarettes, making vaping a wonderful "gateway" product for big tobacco... one which may now have served its purpose.

"We are leaving no stone unturned," said Mitchell Zeller, director of the Center for Tobacco Products at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The sudden and "unexpected" - because who could possibly anticipate adverse outcomes from inhaling heated water vapor infused with not only nicotine but countless unknown substances - surge of vaping illnesses, combined with an explosion of underage use of e-cigarettes, has forced public health officials to rapidly reassess what had been lax regulation of the fledgling industry.

As we reported previously, US doctors have now seen hundreds of cases where patients have shown up in the emergency room, suddenly stricken with dangerous respiratory damage. Their lungs looked like they’d been ravaged by a disease, or as if they’d been exposed to a noxious industrial chemical. What the cases all shared in common: they had all recently used vaping products.

As Bloomberg further notes, over the past several years, there have been a limited number of similar case reports, raising the question of whether there might have been other older incidents that were missed. But the severity and number of recent cases suggest that something has changed in the vaping devices that people are using, doctors say.

So why the big initial push into vaping?

Amusingly, the initial "hope" was that vaping could help curtail tobacco use, which leads to the more than 480,000 deaths a year in the U.S. Tobacco-related illnesses are the leading cause of preventable death in the world. But an explosion in the use of vaping products by teenagers - many of whom said that they had never smoked cigarettes - has led the FDA to call teenage vaping an epidemic. Furthermore, it now appears that vaping was nothing more than a gateway product to traditional cigs, and has now hooked an entire generation of young adults.

The use of e-cigarettes by 10th and 12th graders doubled in the past two years, according to data released this week by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health. According to the survey, 1 in 4 high school seniors reported vaping nicotine in the month prior, and 1 in 5 sophomores reported the same.

“With this particular epidemic, as others have said, there are so many unknowns,” Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, said Thursday in an interview. "This is the known: We know the dangers of nicotine and we do not want to get another generation of children addicted to nicotine."

And yet, that's precisely what America's regulators have achieved by telling kids for years that e-cigs are a safe alternative to cigarettes, only to now reverse and tell them don't smoke any more.

As to why was Altria stock slammed to fresh 5 year lows...

... the reason is e-cig maker Juul, and specifically Altria's $12.8 billion investment in the startup last year, which has been particularly popular with young users. Shares of Altria Group dropped after the updated case count. They were down 1.4% to $40.26 at 12:07 p.m. in New York.