For the past decade, small purveyors of electronic cigarettes have largely had the U.S. market to themselves. Now, with sales projected to double to $1 billion this year, e-cig brands with names such as Logic, Njoy, and Vapor are waiting to exhale as giant tobacco companies begin to invade their turf. In August, Altria Group, the largest cigarette maker in the U.S., will start selling its new MarkTen e-cigs in an undisclosed Indiana market. Second-biggest Reynolds American plans a national rollout of its Vuse e-cigarette, beginning in Colorado next month. Lorillard has boosted distribution of its Blu eCigs to more than 80,000 stores since acquiring the brand last year for $135 million. “We welcome them with open arms as long as they play fair,” says Eli Alelov, chief executive officer of e-cig maker Logic Technology. “We’re hoping they don’t tell their customers, ‘If you want to carry our cigarettes, make sure you have our e-cigs.’ ”
The tobacco companies’ moves come as officials seek to determine if the devices are safer than traditional cigarettes. E-cig users inhale vapor created when a battery-powered tube heats a liquid nicotine solution, giving them a hit without burning or smoke. On June 12, the U.K. government said e-cigs should be regulated as medicines to ensure quality and safety. France plans to ban e-cigs from public venues; several U.S. cities have already.