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As the U.S. cracks down on vaping, Juul expands to China

Is vaping actually safer than smoking?

As Juul Labs contends with a growing U.S. crackdown on vaping, the company is expanding into the world's biggest market for smokers: China. The San Francisco-based vaping company this week opened virtual storefronts through Chinese e-commerce websites Tmall, which is owned by Alibaba, and JD.com, a Juul spokeswoman said on Thursday. 

At both JD.com and Tmall, Juul devices with two flavored pods are selling for 299 yuan, or about $42. A Juul spokeswoman said flavors offered in China include tobacco, mint, mango and creme. Sweet flavors for e-cigarettes are facing increased scrutiny in the U.S. following research indicating that many teens pick up the habit because of enticing flavors like cotton candy and cupcakes

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Juul launched in China on Monday through online storefronts JD.com and Tmall with flavors like mint and mango Tmall

A Juul spokeswoman declined to comment on the China expansion. Alibaba and JD.com did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mounting criticism at home

Juul, in which tobacco giant Altria Group has a 35% stake, already sells its products in overseas markets such as Indonesia, Philippines and South Korea. But Juul's expansion to China, where about half of all adult men are smokers, is striking for its timing. President Donald Trump on Wednesday endorsed banning most flavored vaping products, calling them "dangerous."

Vaping has been linked to more than 450 severe lung illnesses and at least six deaths in the U.S. This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration detailed plans to ban all e-cigarette flavors except plain tobacco to keep the products away from teens.

Trump's crackdown on flavored vaping products unlikely to take effect soon

The FDA on Monday said Juul illegally pitched its electronic cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking, drawing children into a nicotine addiction. Juul even sent representatives to schools to talk about addition while touting vaping as "totally safe."

Juul said in a statement this week that it agrees with the push to take "aggressive" action on flavored products. "We will fully comply with the final FDA policy when effective," it added.

Other critics of the embattled e-cigarette company include former New York major and billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, who on Tuesday pledged $160 million to fund a new program aimed at ending vaping among teens. 

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