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E-cigarettes: Big Tobacco's next big move?

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MarkTen is a disposable e-cigarette but can be reused by buying a separate battery recharging kit and additional cartridges in both tobacco and menthol flavors. The company said the e-cigarette's "Four Draw" technology is designed to give users a "more consistent experience" that closely resembles the draw of a traditional cigarette.

The e-cigarette, made in China by a contract manufacturer, is expected to sell for about $9.50. Prices for additional cartridges and recharging kit were not available. The liquid for the cartridges is being produced in the U.S.

Last week, Reynolds American Inc., owner of the nation's second-biggest tobacco company, announced that it is launching a revamped version of its Vuse brand electronic cigarette in Colorado in July, with its sights set on expanding nationally. Lorillard Inc., the nation's third-biggest tobacco company, acquired e-cigarette maker Blu Ecigs in April 2012 and has expanded to more than 80,000 retail outlets.

The market for e-cigarettes, which includes more than 250 brands, has grown from the thousands of users in 2006 to several million worldwide. Analysts estimate sales could double this year to $1 billion. Some go as far as saying consumption of e-cigs could surpass consumption of traditional cigarettes in the next decade.

Tobacco company executives even noted that e-cigarettes drove total industry cigarette volumes down about 600 million cigarettes, or about 1 percent, during the first quarter, excluding Internet sales — a major avenue for e-cig purchases.

The Food and Drug Administration plans to assert regulatory authority over e-cigarettes in the near future. Public health officials say the safety of e-cigarettes and their effectiveness in helping people quit regular smokes haven't been fully studied.

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