Juul continued on its meteoric rise as the top-selling U.S. electronic cigarette, soaring to a 60.1 percent market share for the four-week period that ended April 21.

Wells Fargo Securities analyst Bonnie Herzog issued her latest report Tuesday, which is based primarily on Nielsen data.

Juul, however, may be challenged to maintain that level after drawing the focus of the Food and Drug Administration in recent weeks and the intense criticism of anti-tobacco advocates.

Juul, made by Juul Labs Inc. of San Francisco, entered the mainstream retail marketplace in 2015, and is sold in the form of a pen or a USB device.

That design, which makes it easy to hide its usage, has anecdotally made it popular among teens.

A year ago, Juul was at 35.7 percent market share, Vuse of R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co. was at 26 percent, MarkTen XL of NuMark was third at 11.6 percent, blu eCigs of Fontem Ventures was fourth at 11.4 percent and Logic of Japan Tobacco was fifth at 7.5 percent.

For the most recent period, Vuse was at 16.9 percent, blu eCigs at 7.2 percent, MarkTen XL at 6.8 percent and Logic at 4.1 percent.

On April 22, the FDA expanded and tightened its oversight over Juul products, including taking steps to halt online sales to youths on eBay.

Two days later, Juul Labs agreed to take significant steps to address federal and state regulatory concerns, including “actively supporting” initiatives to raise the minimum age to at least 21 to purchase tobacco products. Juul began in August requiring purchasers of Juul on its website to be at least 21.

Juul also pledged an initial investment of $30 million over three years dedicated to independent research, youth and parent education, and community engagement efforts.

Although the four steps announced by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a new youth tobacco prevention plan apply to other e-cigs, the focus clearly was on Juul.

“It’s imperative that we make sure children and teenagers aren’t getting hooked on more novel nicotine-delivery products,” Gottlieb said in a statement.

“The troubling reality is that electronic nicotine delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes, have become wildly popular with kids.”

On the traditional cigarette side, three key R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. brands continued to chip away at top-selling Marlboro’s market share.

Marlboro’s volume fell 4.1 percent during the latest period, with its leading market share dropping from 47.1 percent to 46.9 percent

“We expect rising gas prices, a struggling low-income consumer and strengthening e-vapor trial/conversion to remain near term headwinds as Altria continues to refine its consumer engagement/promo strategy,” Herzog said.

Herzog added she expects Marlboro’s overall shipment share to stabilize in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, No. 2 Newport of Reynolds had its first four-week sales decline since 2016, down 0.6 percent. It has a 13 percent market share.

“This echoes signs of price confusion and tepid consumer/retailer response to Newport Platinum,” Herzog said.

Natural American Spirit jumped 6 percent in dollar sales and has a 3.1 percent market share.

Camel and Pall Mall dollar sales were down 2.8 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively. Camel has an 8.8 percent market share, while Pall Mall is at 6.6 percent.

ITG had a 3 percent decline during the period, with sizable volume decreases for Winston (down 5 percent). ITG’s market share remained at 7.4 percent overall, along with Winston at 2.3 percent and Kool and Maverick at 1.6 percent.

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rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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