With sales of electronic cigarettes about to top the £10m mark, Imperial Tobacco has become the latest big tobacco company to invest in the “vapping” market.

The Lambert & Butler manufacturer told Convenience Store that it had made a “small investment” in a third-party e-cigarette business last month. “We are building considerable expertise in the field of e-cigarettes and actively engaging with regulators to support the development of appropriate regulatory frameworks,” a spokeswoman said.

Last year British American Tobacco set up Nicoventures, a company division devoted to the developing cigarette alternatives and regulatory-approved nicotine products. JTI meanwhile, has also signed an agreement to commercialise the nicotine vaporisers made by San Francisco firm Ploom.

“Anticipating consumers’ expectations is what JTI does best,” JTI senior vice-president for business development Frits Vranken said. “We are convinced that products sold under this agreement will be received with enthusiasm by smokers seeking an alternative to cigarettes and conventional tobacco products.”

David Worsfold, of Farrants Newsagents, in Cobham, Surrey, said his sales of e-cigarettes were growing every month. “I sell Matchless e-cigarettes for £5.99 in red (strong tobacco flavour) and blue (medium). They are selling really well and I expect this to continue as awareness of the concept grows. What’s interesting is that most customers who smoke them are not doing so in a bid to quit or cut down. Most are duelling between e-cigarettes and conventional tobacco as a way of continuing to smoke in pubs, restaurants and bars.”