Smokers are being encouraged to use e-cigarettes to help them quit, as top doctors reassured the public for the first time that the devices are safe.
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said that vaping could benefit public health by reducing the harm done by smoking and should be widely promoted as a substitute.
In a major report, published today, the RCP quashed concerns that e-cigarettes could become a gateway to smoking or that the devices normalise the pursuit, as it found the vast majority of users had already smoked tobacco.
There could still be some harm from long-term use of e-cigarettes, such as inhaling the chemicals within, but the risks are less than 5 per cent of those linked to smoking traditional cigarettes, the authors said.
Smoking remains a major public health problem as 20 per cent of Scots smoke and there around 10,000 smoking-related deaths per year, according to NHS data.
Professor John Britton, chair of the RCP’s Tobacco Advisory Group, said: “This report lays to rest almost all of the concerns over these products, and concludes that, with sensible regulation, electronic cigarettes have the potential to make a major contribution towards preventing the premature death, disease and social inequalities in health that smoking currently causes in the UK.
“Smokers should be reassured that these products can help them quit all tobacco use forever.”
Some regulation of e-cigarettes is necessary but it should not inhibit the use as a quitting aid, the report found.
Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s cancer prevention expert based at Stirling University, said: “Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in Scotland and this comprehensive report shows that electronic cigarettes have considerable potential to help drive down smoking rates further.
“This is particularly important for groups and communities where smoking rates are still high. Properly funded stop smoking services are essential, but there is growing evidence that e-cigarettes also provide a new escape route.”
ASH Scotland chief executive Sheila Duffy said: “All the information we have suggests that someone moving completely from tobacco cigarettes to electronic cigarettes will greatly reduce the health risks, but to get these benefits they need to stop using tobacco altogether.
“Electronic cigarettes need to be regulated to improve quality and reliability. There should also be restrictions to prevent promotion to non-smokers, particularly children.”