Altria makes a minority investment in a rapidly growing Chesterfield-based chain of e-cigarette shops –

Tobacco giant Altria Group Inc., looking for growth opportunities in alternatives to conventional cigarettes, has invested in a Chesterfield County-based chain that has grown to become the largest U.S. retailer of vaping devices, commonly referred to as electronic cigarettes.

Henrico County-based Altria recently made a minority investment in Avail Vapor LLC, an executive for Altria said Thursday at a meeting of industry analysts and investors hosted by the company in Richmond.

The investment in Avail comes as Altria, parent company of the nation’s largest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, looks to also become the market leader in a wave of novel nicotine-delivery products that the company wants to market as less risky to health than conventional cigarettes.

Avail Vapor, founded in 2013, has opened 102 stores in 12 states specializing in high-end types of electronic cigarettes.

Unlike conventional cigarettes, the e-cigarettes or vaping devices do not burn tobacco. Instead, the battery-powered devices heat a liquid solution of nicotine, flavorings and other ingredients to produce a vapor that

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