Dubai: Juul Labs, the US company behind the popular e-cigarette device, has said that it is weighing up an expansion in the Middle East.

The UAE’s government said in February that it was looking at legalizing the vaping devices.

“We are evaluating markets across the Middle East,” the company told Gulf News in an emailed statement.

It added that it was not ready to share definitive plans for expansion.

The company expects to rake in as much as $3.4 billion (Dh12.49 billion) this year from the sales of its vape pens and nicotine pods, according to media reports.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death around the globe. Little authoritative research exists around the potential risks of vaping, however, as the technology has only been on the market for 10 years.

Juul has spent much of the past year fighting accusations that its sleek design and fruity flavour encourages nicotine consumption among underage users. Critics say the e-cigarette is marketed like a toy, obscuring its risks.

The company hit back in December 2018, however, announcing that Altria Group, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes, planned to invest $12.8 billion in exchange for a 35 percent stake in Juul Labs.

The deal values Juul at $38 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Altria Group subsidiary Philip Morris scored a victory in the US last month when the US Food and Drug Administration said it would allow the company to sell a heated tobacco product called IQOS.

Traditional cigarette makers are scrambling to introduce healthier alternatives as consumers become more aware about the dangers of smoking.

Experts warn, however, that it is too soon to conclusively say that any alternative is actually healthier than a normal cigarette.

In the UAE, all tobacco products have been subject to a 100 per cent excise tax since October 2017. The tax effectively doubled the price of cigarettes and shisha overnight.