Tobacco giant Altria Group Inc. is launching its first electronic cigarette, joining the trend toward smokeless products amid a slump in sales of its classic Marlboro brand.
Altria joins competitors such as Lorillard Inc. that have already ventured into electronic cigarettes as their traditional market has been squeezed by health concerns, tighter smoking bans and rising taxes.
Electronic cigarettes -- known as e-cigarettes -- deliver an experience similar to standard cigarettes by heating liquid nicotine in a disposable cartridge and producing a vapor that can be inhaled. Smokers can buy additional cartridges, often at cheaper prices compared with traditional cigarettes.
Altria Chief Executive Marty Barrington said at an investor presentation on Tuesday that the company has devoted a lot of time to studying the e-cigarette market, according to the Associated Press.
“The category is in its early stages, and time will tell how it will evolve,” Barrington said.
Altria’s first venture, to be produced under the MarkTen brand, is expected to be priced around $9.50 with fill-in cartridges to cost extra.
Experts say electronic cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes because they deliver a nicotine rush without the tar and other chemicals found in standard smokes. Tobacco companies have rushed into the market as the next frontier for the smoking industry.
Some anti-smoking groups and lawmakers have called for more regulation of e-cigarettes, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been reviewing the product category.