A major chain of independent vape shops has sold a share of its business to cigarette manufacturer Altria.
Avail Vapor LLC is a Virginia-based company that owns 102 vape shops in 12 states. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Altria revealed the purchase at and investor meeting in Richmond Thursday. Altria didn’t specify how much cash was invested in the vapor business.
Avail sells its own line of e-liquid, produced at its lab in Chesterfield County,VA. The company also sells standard vaping devices of all types. Avail has been in business since 2013. The Times-Dispatch describes Avail as the largest retailer of vaping products in the country.
Altria sells a cigalike product called MarkTen through its vapor subsidiary Nu Mark LLC. But the vape shops are probably intended to market the IQOS heat-not-burn product, manufactured by Philip Morris International (PMI).
Altria, which sells cigarettes using the brand Philip Morris USA, has the licensing rights to sell IQOS in the U.S. — which could happen as soon as the FDA approves one of the applications PMI has submitted. PMI was spun off as a company from the original Philip Morris, and sells Marlboro and other Altria brands outside the U.S.
The international cigarette giant has applied for marketing orders from the FDA through two paths, a premarket tobacco application (PMTA), and also a modified risk tobacco product (MRTP) submission. It is widely believed that the FDA will approve the PMTA from PMI.
According to Avail’s marketing director, the company’s mission isn’t changing. Maggie Gowen told the Times-Dispatch that Avail will continue to help smokers transition to vaping.
“We have already benefited in various ways from this investment in Avail,” Jody Begley, president of Altria’s subsidiary Nu Mark LLC, told the newspaper. “Through their retail stores, we have learned a great deal about educating adult tobacco consumers about new products.”