LONDON: Leading tobacco companies are investing in electronic cigarettes as analysts predict that vaping – using a vaporiser to inhale flavoured nicotine – could overtake smoking within a decade.

Bonnie Herzog, an analyst at Wells Fargo bank in New York, told Reuters that the US market alone would be worth more than $1bn this year. And the appearance of celebrities using the product, including the likes of Leonardo di Caprio and Catherine Deneuve, is likely to give the sector a further boost.

"Growth is exponential and there are no signs it's slowing down," Katherine Devlin, president of the London-based Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association, told the New York Times.

"There is a huge amount at stake," she added.

The stakes are potentially high for both tobacco companies and ad agencies as e-cigarettes don't use tobacco and are not subject to the same restrictions on TV. "This presents a whole new revenue stream that they haven't had available since 1971," Emma Bazillian of AdWeek told WTVM.

AdWeek also noted that some e-cigarette brands had adopted the iconography of tobacco brands, citing the example of Blu e-cigarettes, whose ads feature a tough guy reminiscent of Marlboro Man.

Altria, the owner of Philip Morris and the Marlboro brand, is the latest to enter the market, announcing plans to launch e-cigarettes under the brand name MarkTen in the US later this summer.

Reynolds American, which makes Camel cigarettes, will next month extend the testing of its Vuse e-cigarettes to retail outlets in Colorado.

Imperial Tobacco has set up a venture called Fontem to develop the products e-cigarettes, while Lorillard, which manufactures Newport menthol cigarettes, bought a leading e-cigarette company last year.

And British American Tobacco, owner of the Kent brand, has a product under regulatory review in Britain.

The regulatory area is one that could hold back the development of the market, as different territories adopt different approaches.

The UK has just chosen to regulate e-cigarettes as non-prescription medicines, so that manufacturers will need a licence from 2016, though they will still be sold in general stores.

The EU is proposing limits on amount of nicotine e-cigarettes can hold before regulation kicks in, while the US Food and Drug Administration plans to regulate e-cigarettes as it does tobacco.

Medical opinion remains wary although supporters of the product argue that it will actually help people stop smoking.

That in turn could pose a challenge to companies such as Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline which make nicotine-replacement gum and patches.

Data sourced from Reuters, New York Times, AdWeek, WTVM; additional content by Warc staff