Image: Scott Olson (Getty)

Following reports last month that Juul was in talks with Big Tobacco for a possible minority stake in its company, it seems that nicotine-fueled train is chugging right along.

Tobacco giant Altria, the maker of Marlboro, is reportedly looking to acquire a 35 percent stake in Juul Labs in a deal that would put the latter’s value at approximately $38 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, citing sources familiar with the matter. The deal would give Juul a significant leg up in valuation over many of its startup contemporaries, the Journal noted, such as SpaceX and Airbnb:

The $12.8 billion cash injection could be announced as soon as this week, the people said. It would more than double what Juul was valued at just a few months ago, a sign of how quickly the startup has been growing and Altria’s desire to find growth outside its shrinking cigarette business.

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Also citing sources familiar with the matter, CNBC reported Wednesday that a $12.8 billion investment in Juul has already been approved by Altria’s board of directors, and that the rumored deal could be announced as soon as Thursday morning.

Juul did not immediately return a request for comment about the rumored deal.

The report puts Juul in a tricky position, both because it’s come under fire for its well-documented popularity with teens and because accepting such a huge cash investment from Big Tobacco flies in the face of its quit-smoking branding.

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“At JUUL our mission is simple: eliminate cigarette smoking throughout the world one smoker at a time,” Juul CEO Kevin Burns said a statement in May. “38 million Americans and one billion people around the world still smoke. Smoking remains the world’s number one source of preventable death.”

Juul employees, some of whom appear to have been under the impression the company’s stated ethos was more important than money, characterized the rumored Altria investment as a “deal with the devil,” Axios reported in November. The site also reported that the vape giant “rebuffed the initial interest, but Altria remained persistent, regularly coming back with higher price points.”

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The dust doesn’t appear to have settled on that front, with the Journal reporting this week that during an all-hands meeting, “Juul Chief Executive Kevin Burns told staff that any deal would have to meet criteria including Juul maintaining full control of the company, employees having the option to cash out shares and the new investor taking actions to support Juul’s mission, according to a person familiar with the matter.”

Seems like this unprecedented merger is already off to a fantastic start.

[Wall Street Journal, CNBC]

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