Business

Lorillard buys e-cigarette maker

RICHMOND — Lorillard Inc., the nation’s third-biggest tobacco company, has acquired UK-based electronic cigarette maker SKYCIG for about $49 million to expand its global presence in the fast-growing business.

Greensboro, N.C.-based Lorillard, said Tuesday it also will pay up to $49 million more in 2016 if the company meets certain financial performance benchmarks.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices made of plastic or metal that heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapor that users inhale. Users get their nicotine without the chemicals, tar, or odor of regular cigarettes. And they get to hold something shaped like a cigarette, while puffing and exhaling something that looks like smoke.

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The world’s biggest tobacco companies have either bought into, or are closely watching, the category as they look to diversify. Since the devices hit the market nearly a decade ago, sales have spiked so quickly some analysts predict they will outsell traditional cigarettes within a decade.