Juul Asserts Position in S.F. with Potential Purchase of Downtown Building

The e-cigarette company is expanding despite proposed legislation that targets the business and its Pier 70 headquarters.

(Courtesy photo)

Juul, facing a crackdown for operating on city property, nearing a deal to buy 29-story downtown building.

The e-cigarette company is in talks to buy 123 Mission St., which was sold for $290 million in 2018, the Chronicle reported Wednesday. Its number of employees exploded from 200 to 2,000 employees last year and has $12.8 billion from Malboro owner Altria to keep expanding.

But Juul’s growth isn’t the only factor. Its current workspace at Pier 70, a fifth the size of the building they seek, is city-owned property and has faced scrutiny. Juul has plans to keep the historic, renovated shipyard as its headquartered while city officials are working to boot them out. 

In March, City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Supervisor Shamann Walton announced legislation to ban the sale, manufacturing, and distribution of tobacco products on city property in the future. Juul has faced criticism for appealing teenagers with flavored tobacco and accounts for more than 70 percent of all U.S. nicotine vape sales. Besides the well-documented effects of tobacco use, the FDA has also identified 35 cases of seizures after vaping, many of them young users, that has increased since June 2018.

Walton also introduced legislation to ban the sale of any e-cigarette that hasn’t been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. In turn, Juul hired lobbyist Chris Gruwell, who represents Scoot, Bird, Boston Properties, and the Chronicle‘s publisher Heart Corporation to sway other supervisors against the vote. Local campaign consultants David Ho, Nate Albee, and Mark Mosher are also Juul’s hired hands.

The FDA may be making a case for the city leaders, though. In October 2018, feds “conducted a surprise inspection” at the Pier 70 headquarters, taking more than a thousand pages of documents. After FDA officials threatened to pull Juul products unless they came up with a plan to decrease sales to youth, the company announced changes. In November, it declared it would stop selling mango, fruit, creme, and cucumber flavored pods at more than 90,000 locations, require additional checks for minors online, and shut down its Facebook and Instagram.

But with the influx of investment and potential building purchase in downtown San Francisco, Juul clearly has no plans to slow down — or back away from a city that hasn’t quite welcomed it with open arms.

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