This Week in Business: E-Cigarettes Take a Hit, and Gig Workers Get Good News

It was a good week for soybean farmers and a bad one for “Froopy” e-cigarettes. What are those, you ask? Read on and learn.


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CreditGiacomo Bagnara

Dessert-flavored e-cigarettes will soon be banned as part of a federal crackdown on the growing trend of teenage vaping. Spearheaded by President Trump and the Food and Drug Administration, the initiative came after six deaths in the United States were linked to a vaping-related lung illness, and officials are investigating hundreds of similar cases across the country. By outlawing child-friendly e-cigarette flavors like Strawberry Milk and “Froopy” (tastes like Froot Loops, yum?), officials hope to discourage young people from adopting a potentially deadly habit. Some members of the $2.6 billion vaping industry have called the measures “anti-business,” and argue that e-cigarettes are still far less damaging than actual cigarettes — but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.

In a victory for struggling gig workers, California passed legislation requiring businesses that rely on them — like ride-hailing companies and delivery services — to treat them as employees. That would require those companies to provide their gig labor force with benefits like paid sick leave and minimum wages. Uber, one of the bill’s main targets, claimed that the measure did not apply to its drivers, and was promptly sued. Other companies dependent on the gig economy, like Postmates, Lyft and TaskRabbit, are generally confused about what to do, especially if other states follow California’s lead. On a related note, Uber laid off over 400 actual employees — about 8 percent of its product and engineering teams — earlier in the week.

It’s a start. Late in the week, China made its first large purchase of American soybeans in months and said it would exclude some American agricultural goods (including pork and, yes, soybeans) from additional tariffs. The concession followed Mr. Trump’s promise to delay his next round of tariffs by two weeks, which he called a “gesture of good will.” It’s hardly an olive branch, but it’s clear that both sides are trying to calm tensions before they head into yet another round of trade talks in October. Still, the chances of a quick resolution remain low. For now, many analysts believe the best we can hope for is a détente, although Mr. Trump recently said he’d be open to a smaller-scale interim deal.


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CreditGiacomo Bagnara

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve is expected to lower interest rates in response to the slowing global economy. The question is, by how much? Mr. Trump recently tweeted that Fed officials (or “boneheads,” as he called them) should slash rates to zero or below — which has never been done in the United States, but is technically possible. Analysts are expecting a rate decrease of a quarter percentage point, but with the China trade war roiling markets, it’s tough to predict anything these days. Meanwhile, the Bank of England, the Swiss National Bank and the Bank of Japan will also set monetary policy this week, painting a fuller picture of exactly how worried we should be about the world’s economic state.

It seems impossible to come up with a settlement befitting the devastation of the opioid crisis, but lawyers are still trying. Last week, thousands of plaintiffs reached a tentative deal with Purdue Pharma — which developed and marketed the addictive painkiller OxyContin — and its owners, the Sackler family. Under the terms, Purdue Pharma would file for bankruptcy and OxyContin would be sold by a new company, with the proceeds going to plaintiffs. Purdue Pharma would also donate drugs for addiction treatment. And the Sacklers — whose pockets were lined by opioid sales — would have to pay $3 billion in cash. But the details aren’t final yet, and some plaintiffs want to pursue the Sacklers’ money further.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues his losing campaign for a potential no-deal Brexit, which could wreak economic havoc. (Think: shortages of food, medications and fuel.) Last week, matters reached a new level of absurdity when Parliament was suspended and a government official called Black Rod paraded in protest through the House of Commons carrying a sword and, well, an actual black rod. A Scottish court has already ruled that Mr. Johnson’s suspension of Parliament is illegal, and the high court in London will weigh in this week. Stay tuned for more theatrics.


More than 145 executives, including the heads of Twitter, Uber, Airbnb and the Gap, signed a letter to the Senate calling for stronger gun control measures — yet another sign that the business world is taking a stand on what had been a mostly political issue. In other news, Hasbro will release Ms. Monopoly, a new version of its board game that features female characters and pays women more than men. And speaking of fantasies coming true, Apple released its latest fleet of iPhones last week, and they’re significantly cheaper than previous new versions.

Source: NYT

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