E-cigarettes are estimated to be 95% less harmful than conventional cigarettes, which cause around 79,000 deaths each year, according to a report by the House of Commons science and technology committee.
But MPs say e-cigarettes are being 'overlooked' by the NHS as a potential stop-smoking tool.
The report says: ‘A medically licensed e-cigarette could assist smoking cessation efforts by making it easier for medical professionals to discuss and recommend them as a stop-smoking treatment with patients.
‘The government should review with the e-cigarette industry how its systems for approving stop smoking therapies could be streamlined to be able to respond appropriately should e-cigarette manufacturers put forward a product for licensing.’
The committee says that currently around 2.9m people in the UK use e-cigarettes, and it has been estimated that about 470,000 people are using them as an aid to stop smoking - a technique that has proved successful for tens of thousands of ex-smokers.
The report also states that around 40% of adults with mental illness smoke, compared with 16% of the general population. The use of e-cigarettes in mental health facilities could prove beneficial to patients, the report argues.
Risks surrounding the use of e-cigarettes, including fears they act as a ‘gateway’ to conventional cigarettes and concerns surrounding second-hand inhalation, were ‘not significant’.
Science and technology committee chair, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb said: ‘Smoking remains a national health crisis and the government should be considering innovative ways of reducing the smoking rate. E-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, but current policy and regulations do not sufficiently reflect this and 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.’
He added: ‘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.’
This comes just a few weeks after it was revealed that cuts to public health funding have led to a dramatic fall in prescriptions for stop smoking products, leaving many GPs unable to provide patients with support.
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: ‘Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, responsible for nearly 79,000 deaths a year, so any initiatives to help the one in five people smoking should be encouraged.’