Imperial Tobacco widens e-cigarette strategy with new brand

LONDON, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Imperial Tobacco Group Plc is launching a new e-cigarette in France next week, giving the big tobacco firm a lifestyle brand in addition to its existing brand Puritane, marketed more as a healthcare product.

The new brand called Jai will be sold in tobacconist shops, while Puritane is sold online and exclusively behind the counter at Britain’s Boots pharmacy chain, which is owned by Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.

“We believe there are different consumer groups with different needs,” said Heidi Theys, head of vaping category development at Imperial’s Fontem Ventures unit, which sells non-tobacco products.

Imperial’s move highlights the growing division in the nascent industry for nicotine alternatives. Some products, such as Puritane and British American Tobacco Plc’s Voke device aim to be positioned as stop-smoking devices. Most others, such as BAT’s Vype and Lorillard Inc’s blu, are marketed as trendy alternatives to smoking.

There is no long-term data on the health effects of e-cigarettes, and they are still the subject of great debate among public health experts.

Fontem has an application pending with Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to have Puritane approved as a medical device, which would allow it to make claims related to health or smoking cessation, but possibly limit its appeal as a fashionable accessory. Voke has MHRA approval.

Imperial agreed in July to buy blu, a top U.S. brand, as part of a $7.1 billion cigarette deal aimed at easing Reynolds American Inc’s acquisition of Lorillard. Once that deal closes, Imperial would have a big footprint in e-cigarettes in the United States and the United Kingdom, its home market.

It is launching Jai on Monday in France, another large market for e-cigarettes, and expects to launch in Italy by the end of the month. (Reporting by Martinne Geller in London; Editing by Ruth Pitchford and Lisa Shumaker)


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