MSPS have called for national guidance on the risks and benefits of e-cigarettes as they backed new restrictions on their sale.
Holyrood’s Health Committee also threw its weight behind a legally enforceable ban on smoking in parts of hospital grounds.
The committee has been examining a Scottish Government Bill that would introduce restrictions on the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes, including a minimum purchase age of 18 and a limit on advertising.
Some expert witnesses told MSPs that they felt the public and healthcare professionals’ perception of the harm of e-cigarettes was “exaggerated”.
The committee backed the “proportionate and balanced” approach to restricting the sale and advertising of e-cigarettes in the Bill.
But members called on the Scottish Government to consider whether the NHS should provide national guidance on the risks and benefits of using them to quit smoking, and for more research on the issue.
The Scottish Health Survey recently revealed that 15% of adults have tried e-cigarettes.
Deputy committee convener Bob Doris MSP said: “You just need to look at our high streets to see how popular e-cigarettes have become.
“So given there is not clear evidence that they are harmless, the committee considered it sensible to introduce measures to restrict their sale in line with other smoking products.
“However the majority of evidence we heard pointed to these products proving to be a useful aid in helping people to stop smoking.
“Our committee wants the Scottish Government to consider providing national guidance outlining the risks and benefits of using these products to help quit smoking, whilst also supporting more research in this area.”
If passed, the Bill will also make it an offence to smoke within a designated no-smoking area around buildings in NHS hospital grounds.
During the committee’s scrutiny, the proposal was criticised as “inhumane, petty and vindictive” by pro-smoking group Forest.
MSPs said they supported the proposal, but recommended that Ministers consider whether individual health boards should be able to propose their own legally enforceable perimeter given the differences between hospital sites.
Committee convener Duncan McNeil MSP said: “Our committee agrees that there is a particular issue with people smoking around doorways and access points especially given the harm caused by second hand smoke.
“We therefore agree that no smoking areas outside hospital buildings should be legally enforceable.
“However, it will be difficult for the same no-smoking distance to be set the same for all hospitals and even more difficult to communicate to patients, families and visitors.”
MSPs also gave their support to measures in the Bill that would introduce offences of wilful neglect and ill-treatment in health and care settings and introduce a ‘duty of candour’ for health and care organisations.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government agrees that electronic cigarettes need appropriate regulation. While we accept that the devices may potentially help people smoke fewer cigarettes, or even stop altogether, we recognise that there are also risks involved.
âª”We have included a range of provisions to regulate the sale of these products in the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Bill which is being considered by the Scottish Parliament at the moment.
“It contains measures to regulate e-cigarettes including age restrictions, proxy purchase, marketing restrictions and the creation of an e-cigarette retailers register.”