E-CIGARETTE smokers in Scotland have been given the go-ahead to use the controversial devices as a way to help them quit the real thing.

A new report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) is behind the in-depth report entitled Nicotine Without Smoke: Tobacco Harm Reduction, which concludes that e-cigarettes are likely to be beneficial to public health.

It also says smokers should be reassured and encouraged to use them, and the public can be confident that e-cigarettes are much safer than smoking.

The news was welcomed by cancer expert Professor Linda Bauld, who insisted tobacco was still the biggest cause of preventable deaths in Scotland.

Bauld, who is an author of the RCP report and Cancer Research UK’s expert in cancer prevention based at the University of Stirling, 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, as we need to do everything we can to support people to move away from tobacco. There is growing evidence that e-cigarettes also provide a new escape route.”

Figures show that half of all lifelong smokers die early, losing an average of about three months of life expectancy for every year smoked after the age of 35, some 10 years of life in total.

Although the number of smokers in the UK has reduced to 18 per cent, 8.7 million people are still puffing away. Since e-cigarettes became available in the UK in 2007, their use has been surrounded by medical and public controversy.

This new 200-page report examined the science, public policy, regulation and ethics surrounding e-cigarettes and other non-tobacco sources of nicotine, and addresses these controversies and misunderstandings with conclusions based on the latest available evidence.

It concluded that e-cigarettes were not a gateway to smoking because their use is limited almost entirely to those who are already using, or have used, tobacco, there is no evidence that they result in normalisation of smoking.

The report also found using e-cigarettes is likely to lead to quit attempts that would not otherwise have happened, and in a proportion of these to stop altogether, they can actually act as a gateway from smoking.

Experts also found that the possibility of some harm from long-term use cannot be dismissed due to inhalation of the ingredients other than nicotine, but is likely to be very small, and substantially smaller than that arising from tobacco smoking.

They revealed that with appropriate product standards to minimise exposure to the other ingredients, it should be possible to reduce risks of physical health still further.

The report acknowledges the need for regulation but suggests that it should not be allowed significantly to inhibit the development and use of harm-reduction products by smokers.

It says a regulatory strategy should take a balanced approach in seeking to ensure product safety, enable and encourage smokers to use the product instead of tobacco, and detect and prevent effects that counter the overall goals of tobacco control policy.

Professor John Britton, chair of the RCP’s Tobacco Advisory Group, said: “The growing use of electronic cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco smoking has been a topic of great controversy, with much speculation over their potential risks and benefits.

“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.”