Vape Lab employee Leonardo Verzaro uses an E-Cigarette while working in London. The Department of Health have ruled out the outlawing of 'e-cigs' in enclosed spaces in England, despite calls by the World Health Organisation to do so. WHO have recommended / Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

However, the wide variety of quality and content of products on sale means that scientists are still divided over the safety of e-cigs

New research has found that e-cigarettes are an effective method to help quit smoking, with scientists concluding that the devices successfully reduced cravings with minimal side effects.

The eight month study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health followed 48 smokers who were trying to quit and compared individuals given e-cigs with those relying on willpower alone.

Among the smokers given e-cigarettes 21 per cent stopped smoking tobacco entirely while an additional 23 per cent reported cutting their consumption in half. This compares well to smokers using only willpower, only 3 to 5 per cent of whom remained smoke-free.

“All the groups showed similar results after we introduced the e-cigs,” said lead researcher, Professor Frank Baeyens in a statement. 

“With guidance on practical use, the nicotine e-cig offers many smokers a successful alternative for smoking less – or even quitting altogether. E-cig users get the experience of smoking a cigarette and inhale nicotine vapor, but do not suffer the damaging effects of a tobacco cigarette.” This study however did not look at the usefulness of e-cigarettes versus other assisted methods (such as gum or patches) and despite Dr Baeyens confidence in e-cigarettes’ health-credentials, researchers are split as whether the devices really are harmless or not.

This is partly because the devices have not been in use long enough to reach solid conclusions, but also because there is a massive variety in the types and quality of products on offer.

‘E-cigarettes’ commonly refer to cartridge-based products that look like regular cigarettes and are usually made by big tobacco companies (including brands prominent in the UK like Vype and Blu), containing variable amounts of both nicotine and harmful substances such as diethylene glycol (usually found in antifreeze).

E-cig advocates, however, point out that even at their worst e-cigs are safer than regular cigarettes and that more advanced devices like ‘vape pens’ offer greater control over ingredients and substances. (Instead of mass-manufactured cartridges, vape pens used ‘e liquid’ which is often made by hand to suit a customers’ preference for flavour and nicotine content.)

However, even if e-cigarettes are less harmful than their 'analogue' cousins, evidence suggests that their unregulated sale is dangerous, often acting as a first step for non-smoking teens to start using regular cigarettes.