WHILE the industry body claims the majority of electronic cigarette firms are independently owned, tobacco firms are increasingly pushing their way into the market.

Many major tobacco companies are buying up independent e-cigarette brands, while some are developing their own electronic products, prompted by fears that they will miss out on profits if the technology really takes off internationally.

Just two months ago, tobacco giant Philip Morris International - which produces Marlboro cigarettes - took over Nicolites, while Japan Tobacco also bought out one of the UK's most recognisable e-cigarette brands, E-lites. British American Tobacco (BAT) has created its own electronic product, Vype, which sits alongside Reynolds American's Vuse and Imperial Tobacco's Puritane.

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However, the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association (ECITA) claims their reputation is suffering because of "historic distrust".

Tom Pruen, ECITA's chief scientific officer, said: "The vast majority of the industry is not anything to do with the tobacco industry. They're fairly late entering into our market. They've identified that there's a threat to tobacco sales. Obviously, there's a historic distrust of the tobacco industry and now we are being tarred with the industry's brush."

A number of firms moving into the electronic market have been accused of "wooing" politicians. BAT has close ties to Tory MP and former chancellor Ken Clarke who was paid more than £1 million in his 10 years working for the firm. The politician received free trips while he was a senior minister and was invited to the British Grand Prix by Formula 1 sponsor Philip Morris International while it was fighting plans to ban tobacco advertising in the sport.

Japan Tobacco gave 12 Conservative MPs Chelsea Flower Show tickets costing up to £1132 each. The politicians opposed a successful ban on smoking in family cars. Independent firm Pillbox38, which makes Totally Wicked e-cigarettes, donated £25,000 to Ukip in May last year. Party leader Nigel Farage then appeared in a video promoting "remarkable" e-cigarettes.

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of health charity ASH Scotland, added there were concerns over the growing involvement of tobacco companies in the market owing to their "history of prioritising profits over people".