The company behind Puff Bar, the most popular e-cigarette brand among middle and high school students, has been shrouded in mystery for two years. The company’s mailing address has been linked to a shuttered storefront on skid row in Los Angeles and, more recently, to a P.O. box. On its website, Puff Bar has teased the mystery of its origins. Nick Minas and Patrick Beltran, childhood friends and co-CEOs of Puff Bar, have spoken publicly for the first time in a television interview with “CBS Mornings” co-host Tony Dokoupil and their lawyer. They stated that they want to build trust with their consumers because the brand was previously associated with shadowiness and mystery.
The market for Puff Bar exploded in early 2020 when the FDA banned candy and fruit-flavored e-cigarettes like Juul, which were popular among teens. However, the FDA allowed single-use devices like Puff Bar and all its flavors to remain on the market because they were not yet popular. Puff Bar’s sales skyrocketed from $14,000 to $3 million a week. The co-CEOs posted lavish items on social media, including a new home, fancy meals, and two Lamborghinis.
Beltran and Minas said Puff Bar was not their invention and claimed that a Chinese manufacturer put the brand package together. They said the brand was founded with the collaboration of U.S. personnel giving input. The FDA ordered Puff Bar off the market in 2020 amid lawsuits and public outcry. Four states banned the product, and it faces a probe in the House of Representatives and lawsuits in at least three states. This week, North Carolina’s attorney general launched an investigation.
Beltran and Minas took over the company around the middle of 2020, first the website and then the entire brand. They would not disclose who the prior partners were, and they said the amount of money it cost to buy the Puff Bar and its trademark was confidential and subject to a non-disclosure agreement.
Store sales of Puff Bar in the United States topped $150 million last fiscal year, according to Nielsen, but Minas and Beltran said almost none of it was theirs. When shown four Puff Bar branded e-cigarettes, Minas and Beltran said all four were counterfeits. They said the real Puff Bar was off the market for months and was only re-released earlier this year. It was reformulated with what they said is a synthetic nicotine, allowing them to avoid FDA regulation as a tobacco product.
Dokoupil asked why people should believe them, given that they are driving Lamborghinis. Beltran responded that they have other investment sources, and counterfeits are undermining what they are doing from an internal company perspective. He added that they did not receive any backdoor payments from counterfeits selling Puff Bar.
Dokoupil pressed further, asking about the lack of transparency surrounding Puff Bar’s ownership and manufacturing. Beltran and Minas maintained that they have been transparent with their customers and that they are committed to making sure their products are safe and legal.
“We have taken steps to ensure that the product is not marketed to minors, that it’s not sold to minors,” Minas said.
He added that they have implemented strict age verification measures on their website and that they have hired a third-party company to monitor their online presence and remove any content that promotes underage use of their products.
Beltran and Minas also emphasized that they are not in the business of selling to minors and that their target demographic is adult smokers who are looking for a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes.
“We’re in the business of helping adult smokers quit, and that’s always been our mission,” Beltran said.
Despite the controversy surrounding Puff Bar, the company is still in operation and appears to be growing. Beltran and Minas said they have plans to expand into international markets and to introduce new products, such as a refillable device that will allow customers to use their own e-liquid.
“We have a lot of exciting things coming up that we’re really excited to share with our consumers,” Minas said.
As for the ongoing legal challenges, Beltran and Minas said they are confident that they will be able to overcome them and continue to provide their customers with a high-quality, safe, and legal product.
“We’re willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that we can continue to operate, and that we can continue to provide our consumers with the products that they know and love,” Beltran said.