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Sarah Halzack

Altria’s Juul Stake Is the Least It Could Do

The tobacco giant’s growth problems could be better fixed by buying the e-cigarette maker outright.

A Juul for Altria’s crown.

A Juul for Altria’s crown.

Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg

Altria Group Inc. has taken a $12.8 billion step toward making sure its business model doesn’t go up in smoke.

The maker of Marlboro cigarettes announced Thursday that it has taken a 35 percent stake in Juul Labs Inc., the U.S. market-share leader in e-cigarettes. The deal values Juul at $38 billion, and the agreement between the companies says that the upstart will continue to operate independently.