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Altria Continues to Play Catch Up in e-Cigarettes

Jon C. Ogg

Altria Group, Inc. (MO) has decided that it better continue playing catch up in the trend of moving towards e-cigarettes. The company's Nu Mark subsidiary announced on Monday morning that it has entered into an agreement to acquire the e-vapor business of Green Smoke, Inc. for approximately $110 million in cash.

Terms of the buyout are subject to closing adjustments, and there is also up to $20 million in incentive payments. Green Smoke's revenues for 2013 were approximately $40 million. Altria said in the press release that the merger agreement does contain provisions to retain key management infrastructure and talent.

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By purchasing this new e-cigarette line, Altria gets to build upon its MarkTen product line by adding Green Smoke's full line and supply chain. Green Smoke was founded in 2008, and has operations in the United States and Israel. The company's e-vapor products have been on the market since 2009.

What is interesting is that Altria's first real entrance into e-cigarettes was just in 2013. This trend is still gaining popularity, almost ironically because vapor is considered a "healthier" alternative to smoking cigarettes laden with tar and dozens of other substances other than just tobacco. That being said, most people don't know what is in the vapor products either.

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There are some obvious reasons that e-cigarette makers have not all been rolled up. First off, there seem to be dozens and dozens of them. There are many variables, including where the products and where the systems are made. Back to irony, is it ironic that a non-tobacco product may or may not be worse on a health basis than smoking the treated tobacco products? That cannot be said with confidence, but e-cigarettes have only a limited time of operation on the market.

Intellectual property is another issues that is hard to quantify. Which companies or individuals have all the patents for the use of the technology? It is hard to know, and it is hard for tobacco companies to spend the billions of dollars on what seems like an obvious growth target in the near future.

Now the other question is how much a $110 million, or $130 million, matters in the grand scheme of things. Altria is worth $70 billion.

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