Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc. announced Thursday that it's entering the electronic cigarette market as part of the industrywide push to diversify beyond the traditional cigarette business.

The owner of the nation's biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, said its NuMark subsidiary plans to introduce an electronic cigarette during the second half of the year, making it the last of the major domestic tobacco companies to enter the category. Details on the product, the market it will enter and whether it will be under the Marlboro brand name were not revealed.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution in a disposable cartridge, creating vapor that users inhale. Some e-cigarettes are made to look like a real cigarette with a tiny light on the tip that glows like the real thing. Devotees tout them as a way to break addiction to real cigarettes.

In a conference call with analysts on Thursday regarding Altria Group's first-quarter earnings, CEO Marty Barrington discussed the e-cigarette market.

QUESTION: In terms of your plans to launch your own e-cigarette, why now? Are you more comfortable with the potential regulatory environment? Do you think that the category starting to have a bit more of an impact on cigarette consumption? Or do you think that you've got a product that you're really ready to go in with differentiated positioning?

RESPONSE: We have a product and we have plans that I think will allow us to compete effectively in this area that's emerging. It's small, of course, relative to traditional tobacco products, but there's no denying that adult tobacco consumers have shown some interest in it. ... Our intention is to do this and do it responsibly. ... A lot of that will be defined by what the FDA has to say about how they intend to regulate these products.


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