WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Two years ago, Lorillard Inc. bought blu eCigs, becoming the first of the Big Three tobacco companies to have a stake in the electronic cigarette game. Now, however, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co.'s (RJRV) VUSE and Nu Mark's MarkTen brands are rolling out nationally and the e-cigarette wars are starting to take shape, with 7-Eleven Inc. emerging as a key battleground.
RJRV is a subsidiary of Winston-Salem-based Reynolds American Inc., and Nu Mark is a subsidiary of Richmond, Va.-based The Altria Group Inc. Lorillard calls Greensboro, N.C., home.
VUSE began spreading throughout the country in June, while MarkTen began popping up on c-store shelves in the West Coast earlier this summer and is now making its move east.
With MarkTen's recent arrival in 7-Eleven locations in North Carolina, all of the Big Three are fighting for space and adult tobacco consumers, along with e-cigarette offerings from smaller manufacturers, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
VUSE is also available at WilcoHess and Quality Mart stores in the Triad region of North Carolina; MarkTen is available in Circle K and Sheetz stores. Lorillard's blu eCigs is in all of those stores, too, the news outlet reported.
Citing data from NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, the news report noted that the head-to-head competition is important because electronic cigarette sales reached approximately $540 million in 2013 just in convenience stores -- accounting for 75 percent of e-cigarette sales. Overall e-cigarette sales were approximately $1.7 billion last year. Tobacco-only shops, kiosks and the Internet also represent sizable retail components for the products.
In addition, the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association reports that online outlets represented about 25 percent of sales in 2013, according to the newspaper.