Little is known about the company behind the most popular brand of electronic cigarettes among consumers.
For two years, the Puff Bar has been operating in the shadows. He posted his mailing address first to a closed storefront on a row of skates in Los Angeles and more recently to a PO box.
Puff Bar has teased the mystery of it all on their own website. Last year the site read “Who Makes Puff Bar? Everyone Wants to Know.”
Nick Minas and Patrick Beltran, two of the businessmen behind Puff Bar, caught up with “CBS Mornings” co-host Tony Dokoupil for their first TV interview about the company, conducted with their lawyer just off camera.
Minas and Beltran, both 27, are childhood friends from Southern California who said they are now the sole owners and co-CEOs of Puff Bar. Beltran has said he wants to speak out to “build trust” with his consumers.
“We are aware that there is a lot of mystery and that there was a lot of shadow before. We are here right now, talking with you guys. [CBS News] is our first step to really, like, building trust with our consumers, ”he said.
The Puff Bar market exploded in early 2020 after the FDA banned candy andciting their popularity among teens.
But at the same time, the FDA left single-use devices like Puff Bar and all of its flavors in the market because they weren’t popular yet.
“It looks a bit like a Juul device and, you know, it tastes and tastes great, it’s easy, it’s disposable,” Beltran said. “So I think it was just very appealing to the mass consumer market as the next step after what a Juul device is.”
Sales have gone from $ 14,000 to $ 3 million per week. Beltran and Minas posted lavish posts on social media, including a new home, fine dining, and two Lamborghinis.
But the duo said Puff Bar was not their invention and claimed that a Chinese manufacturer “put together this branded packaging.”
“I would say the brand was founded with the collaboration of American staff,” Beltran said.
In 2020, the FDA ordered Puff Bar to shut down from the market amid lawsuits and public outcry.
Four states have. He also faces an investigation in the House of Representatives and legal action in at least three states. This week, the North Carolina attorney general opened an investigation.
Beltran and Minas said they took over the company in mid-2020 – first the website and ultimately the entire brand.
“The original co-founding partners decided they didn’t want to continue the brand in the direction we felt was most appropriate. And that’s where we kind of took control,” Minas said.
Minas and Beltran did not want to reveal who the previous partners were. They also said the amount of money it cost to buy the Puff Bar and its brand was “confidential” and part of a nondisclosure agreement.
Puff Bar or something that looks like Puff Bar are easy to find these days, even in places like New York City, where flavored vapers have been banned by state law.
Nielsen reports that Puff Bar’s U.S. in-store sales topped $ 150 million last year, but Minas and Beltran said almost none of it was theirs.
When they showed four Puff Bar brand electronic cigarettes, Minas and Beltran said all four were counterfeit.
“The imagery used on the front was not similar, it is not even similar to the imagery that we had originally placed on the packaging or that was originally on the packaging,” Beltran said. .
“Also flavors that we’ve never made,” added Minas. One of those flavors was the strawberry banana that Minas said he never made in these types of devices.
Both said the real Puff Bar had been off the market for months and had only been re-released earlier this year. It has been reformulated with what they said is synthetic nicotine, allowing them to avoid FDA regulation as a tobacco product.
“So your income was basically zero dollars from June 2020 to February of this year?” Dokoupil asked.
“Yes, that’s right,” Beltran replied.
“So why should we believe you, I guess that’s the question? You drive a Lamborghini,” Dokoupil said.
“We have other sources of investment that we put our money into. I mean, that doesn’t mean we didn’t make money with Puff. I mean, I think that would be ignorant. to think that we haven’t made any money from the brand itself, ”Beltran said.
He added that counterfeits “undermine” what they do from an “internal corporate perspective.”
“We’ve got new, completely different devices, you know, a verification system. All of that would undermine all of that, all of those backdoors,” Beltran said.
When asked if they had received any stolen payments from counterfeit selling Puff Bar, both said “No”.
They both agree that underage use of Puff Bar is a problem.
“I think it’s horrible,” Beltran said.
“Guess I’m sorry to hear that… You know, and it’s nothing we would want,” Minas added.
But they both said the government needs to do more to address this issue.
“I think governments need to do a better job of going after the retailers and distribution channels that actually market these products,” Beltran said.
Puff Bar still sells fruit flavors and teens report using the brand versus Juul five to one.
“Why keep selling flavors? Banana Ice and Cool Mint and…” Dokoupil asked.
“I think adults love the flavors. I mean, when you go out to a bar and people order drinks, do they always order whiskey straight, vodka straight, tequila straight? No. They get margaritas that contain, for example, lime and lemon, and I think people enjoy our products with flavors, the same way they do with any other type of product, ”Beltran said.
CBS News has asked the FDA for an interview on Puff Bar. They refused and said in a statement that they “knew the companies had publicly announced strategies to switch to synthetic nicotine in an attempt to escape FDA jurisdiction.” They said they were “investigating this matter.”