The UK’s leading brand of e-cigarette said the new guidance could help thousands more smokers in Scotland switch to a tobacco-free alternative.
It is thought that some quit-smoking services in Scotland have until recently simply turned away smokers wanting to use electronic cigarettes.
However, according to the new National Health Service guidance, these people should not be told to stop if there is even the smallest risk they might go back to smoking tobacco cigarettes.
Although the NHS still recommends smokers try licensed nicotine replacement products like inhalers, patches or gum, prevention of a relapse to smoking is now its main priority.
As a result, it is recommending even unlicensed products like electronic cigarettes as a better alternative to tobacco.
According to Fiona Moore, public health adviser at NHS Scotland, the increased interest and growing number of questions about e-cigarettes have prompted them to revise their guidance.
On the issue of long-term e-cigarette usage safety, the revised NHS guidance points out there is still little evidence, but states that “current expert opinion on the limited evidence available suggests that they are likely to be considerably less hazardous than tobacco smoking”.
Just last week a letter signed by more than 50 public health specialists urged the World Health Organization (WHO) to “resist the urge to control and suppress e-cigarettes”.
The letter, which said the devices – which deliver nicotine in a vapour – could save hundreds of millions of lives, was an enormously important vote of confidence in e-cigarettes, according to Nicolites.
E-cigarette companies and users, who argue the products are a low-risk substitute for smoking, fear they may become subject to reduction targets and advertising bans. The WHO is still deciding what recommendations to make to governments.
The letter was signed by 53 researchers – including specialists in public health policy and experts such as Professor Robert West, who published research last week suggesting that e-cigarettes are more likely to help people give up smoking than some conventional methods.
It said: “These products could be among the most significant health innovations of the 21st Century – perhaps saving hundreds of millions of lives. If regulators treat low-risk nicotine products as traditional tobacco products they are improperly defining them as part of the problem.”
E-cigarettes are designed to look and feel like real cigarettes, but are battery-powered products containing a nicotine solution which is inhaled as a vapour.