And processing the raw product to liquid could be done on the farm. “All the equipment needed to process the tobacco could fit into a semi-trailer and be carried from farm to farm,” said Kuegel, who is president of the Council for Burley Tobacco.

Liquid nicotine for e-cigs is being derived from tobacco, at least for now, said North Carolina Extension economist Blake Brown. It is usually dissolved in a solution of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin or polyethylene glycol. Synthetic nicotine, on the other hand, is not likely to compete with tobacco-based nicotine anytime soon.

“It is currently expensive to manufacture and, in the U.S., would be regulated as a pharmaceutical instead of a tobacco product,” said Brown.

Change may be dramatic, but it is difficult to forecast, said Brown, who noted that Wells Fargo has projected that e-cigs will overtake traditional cigarettes in volume sold by 2023.

“The technology and characteristics of the market may change dramatically,” he said. “Many companies are in the start-up phase, but consolidation will occur. There will be a few winners and many losers.”