Report calls for relaxed rules on vaping so people can use e-cigarettes to quit smoking
Vaping shouldn't be treated the same as conventional smoking as it's less harmful and could help people quit, MPs have said.
A report by the Science and Technology Committee said that rules around e-cigarettes should be relaxed to help accelerate already-declining smoking rates.
The committee called for an urgent review to make it easier for e-cigarettes to be made available on prescription as well as to spark a "wider debate" on vaping in public spaces and greater freedom for the industry to advertise them as a less harmful option for smokers.
But the report's recommendations have come under fire by some public health experts, with one saying it relies on accounts from "e-cig champions".
According to the report, around 2.9 million people in the UK are currently using e-cigarettes, with an estimated 470,000 using them to help them stop smoking.
The Government has said it will "carefully consider" the evidence and recommendations made in the Science and Technology Committee's (STC) report.
Norman Lamb, the STC's chairman, said that current policy and regulations do not "sufficiently reflect" the lesser harm posed by e-cigarettes than their conventional alternatives.
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He said: "Businesses, transport providers and public places should stop viewing conventional and e-cigarettes as one and the same. There is no public health rationale for doing so.
"Concerns that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to conventional smoking, including for young non-smokers, have not materialised. If used correctly, e-cigarettes could be a key weapon in the NHS stop-smoking arsenal."
Public Health England (PHE) has estimated that e-cigarettes are at least 95% less harmful than smoking and the STC said that while there are still "uncertainties" about their long-term effects, they provide an opportunity to "significantly accelerate already declining smoking rates".
Mr Lamb said: "Medically licensed e-cigarettes would make it easier for doctors to discuss and recommend them as a stop smoking tool to aid those quitting smoking. The approval systems for prescribing these products must be urgently reviewed."
The report also called for limits on refill strengths and tank sizes to be reviewed and suggested that e-cigarettes should be allowed on mental health units.
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, said: "E-cigarettes are not without harm but are way safer than the harms of tobacco. This is about comparing e-cigarettes to normal cigarettes, not fresh air."
The report comes days after scientists warned that the perception that e-cigarettes are safe should be treated with caution.
Research led by the University of Birmingham found that the fluid in e-cigarettes has a similar effect on the lungs and body as that seen in regular cigarette smokers and patients with chronic lung disease.
Reacting to the STC's report Simon Capewell, Professor in Public Health and Policy from Liverpool University, told the Daily Mail: "The committee has concentrated solely on "experts" who are e-cig champions.
"More balanced reviews of the evidence by the World Health Organisation, (US) Food and Drug Administration have concluded that e-cigs are no better for quitting smoking than things like nicotine gum, patches or tablets.
"E-cigs in teens are a gateway to subsequent smoking lit cigarettes and e-cig vapour contains a large number of toxins which in time will obviously harm users, and bystanders."
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: "The best thing a smoker can do for their health is to quit.
"However, we recognise that the evidence surrounding the use of e-cigarettes is evolving, and there are over three million vapers in the UK already.
"We will carefully consider the evidence and recommendations made in this report and will respond in due course."