Imperial Tobacco is preparing to enter the e-cig market

Imperial Tobacco is set to launch its first electronic cigarette next year.

The tobacco giant said this week that it was making “good progress with our initiatives in the e-vapour sector through our subsidiary Fontem Ventures and remain on track to launch our own products in 2014”.

Imperial, whose brands include Lambert & Butler, JPS and Golden Virginia, announced the move as it revealed a 7% fall in volumes for the nine months to 30 June. Sales were down 3% by value for the same period.

The company said that EU stick equivalent sales fell by 6% in terms of volume and 2% for its non-EU markets. Spain remained particularly weak.

However the results were not as bad as some predictions, with some analysts forecasting a profits warning. Imperial said its guidance for the full year remained unchanged prompting shares to surge by as much as 4% at one point yesterday.

Last month Imperial’s rival BAT became the first of the major tobacco suppliers to launch an electronic cigarette in the UK. Vype is currently available online but BAT is planning to roll the product out to retail next month.

There are an estimated 1.5 million users of electronic cigarettes in the UK and Nielsen has estimated that the market is set to almost treble in size to £338m by the end of 2015. This would be the equivalent value of 2.7% of the current factory-made cigarette market.