Juul cofounder James Monsees is leaving the startup he helped build into the biggest e-cigarette manufacturer in the country.
In a company-wide memo sent Thursday afternoon, obtained by BuzzFeed News, Monsees wrote, “After 15 years on this tremendous journey, it is with a great deal of thought and consideration that I have decided it is time for me to move on from JUUL Labs and step down from our Board. These many years have been incredible, and I did not make this decision lightly.”
In the memo, Monsees wrote that he had recently gotten married and was “looking forward to spending more time with my family and pursuing other interests both personally and professionally.”
A Juul spokesperson confirmed that Monsees was stepping down as an adviser and board member.
In a follow-up email to staff, CEO K.C. Crosthwaite praised him for being “fundamental in the creation of this company and instrumental in building this company from the ground up.”
Monsees and cofounder Adam Bowen began working on an e-cigarette called the Ploom when they were both studying product design at Stanford University and in 2007, started a company by the same name. In 2015, the company changed its name to Pax Labs and developed a new device, the Juul. Juul Labs spun out as a separate company in 2017.
The tobacco giant Altria bought a one-third stake in Juul late December 2018, valuing it at $38 billion — and making Monsees and Bowen billionaires. Monsees became the chief product officer, and Bowen the chief technology officer.
Over the last year, however, Juul’s fortunes have considerably declined. Its stated mission is to help adult smokers quit conventional cigarettes. But it has faced widespread criticism for helping spark the teen nicotine-vaping crisis and has struggled in the face of global regulatory scrutiny and marketing restrictions.
Monsees defended Juul in a congressional hearing last year, arguing that it “never wanted any non-nicotine users, and certainly not anyone underage” — but also acknowledging that the company had made “missteps.”
In his memo on Thursday, Monsees wrote, “Together we’ve made a real difference in people’s lives around the world. I am most proud when I hear from an adult smoker who has transitioned away from combustible cigarettes about how grateful he or she is for our product.”