Tobacco multinational Altria Group (NYSE:MO) has announced plans to enter the electronic cigarette market, Yahoo News reports.
Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, whose brands include Marlboro, Virginia Slims, Parliament and Chesterfield, will launch a brand of e-cigarettes called MarkTen via the Nu Mark subsidiary, beginning in August in Indiana.
At an investor presentation on Tuesday, CEO Marty Barrington said Altria had been closely studying the rapidly emerging e-cigarette market. "The category is in its early stages, and time will tell how it will evolve," said Barrington, according to Yahoo.
The company also revealed that its e-cigarette, manufactured in China, will sell for $9.50. MarkTen is a disposable e-cigarette, but users will be able to reuse the product by purchasing a separate kit for recharging batteries. The new brand will be available in two flavors: "classic" and menthol.
As Yahoo points out, the Richmond, Va.-based Altria is the last of the Big Three U.S. tobacco companies to enter the e-cigarette business, as their competitors attempt to expand beyond the traditional cigarette market due to increasing taxes, smoking bans and health concerns.
Last week, Reynolds American (NYSE:RAI), the second-largest tobacco company in the country whose holdings include Camel, Pall Mall, Kool and Winston, announced plans to introduce a revamped version of its Vuse e-cigarette, beginning in Colorado before expanding across the country.
In April 2012, Lorillard (NYSE:LO), number three in the tobacco business, purchased Blue eCigs, the biggest company in the e-cigarette market, for $135 million. Lorillard owns Newport, Maverick, Kent and other brands.
E-cigarettes recreate the experience of traditional cigarettes by heating a liquid nicotine solution inside a disposable cartridge, which creates a vapor that users can inhale.
As the e-cigarette market continues to expand, with sales expected to top $1 billion according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the debate over their safety is just getting started.
In a statement on its website, the FDA says: “As the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, consumers of e-cigarette products currently have no way of knowing whether e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use, how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or if there are any benefits associated with using these products. Additionally, it is not known if e-cigarettes may lead young people to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death.”
Time will tell if the federal government will clamp down on the expanding e-cigarette market.