The largest tobacco company in the U.S. is investing in a vapor retailer in an effort to expand their reduced harm product portfolio as smokers increasingly turn to electronic cigarettes.

Officials at Altria, the domestic makers of Marlboro cigarettes, recently invested in the largest retail chain of vape stores in the U.S. as part of their broader strategy to shift towards alternative smoking products. Avail Vapor LLC, based in Chesterfield County, Va., has more than 100 locations in Virginia and 11 other states, and representatives of the company are optimistic about further expansion, reports Vaping Post.

Maggie Gowen, marketing director for Avail, says the company’s mission has always been to help smokers quit combustible tobacco, and that the investment from Altria will help them continue this effort. Representatives of Altria said the vape retail chain is helping them better understand the landscape of the vapor industry.

“Through their retail stores, we have learned a great deal about educating adult tobacco consumers about new products,” Jody Begley, president of Altria’s product development subsidiary, Nu Mark LLC, said Nov. 2, according to Vaping Post.

Officials at Altria recently announced their intention to shift focus at the company to electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn products, which are currently helping scores of smokers quit in Asian markets. The company intends to become the U.S. market leader of reduced-risk products, CEO Marty Barrington told investors at a conference Nov. 2 in Richmond, Va.

The new strategy is in part a response to the Food and Drug Administration, which encouraged companies in July to invest in new technologies that transition smokers off of cigarettes.

Representatives of Altria revealed at the Nov. 2 conference their plans to submit applications to the FDA in 2018 for Copenhagen snuff and MarkTen e-cigarettes that, if approved, would allow the company to market those products as safer than traditional tobacco.

“Of course Altria is ready for the introduction of innovative reduced-risk products,” Barrington said at the conference. “After all, we helped make it possible.”

Altria also plans to sell the iQOS heat-not-burn device in the U.S. through their partnership with Philip Morris International (PMI), the global makers of Marlboro. The FDA is currently reviewing an application that would allow the product to be marketed as a safer alternative to smoking, though it is unclear if the FDA will sanction these claims.

The majority of cancer-causing chemicals and toxins from smoking are released through combustion, therefore smokeless tobacco and vapor products reduce harm caused by cigarettes to the user by more than 90 percent.



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