Health officials in Britain have for the first time endorsed e-cigarettes, saying they are 95 percent safer than tobacco equivalents and even suggesting doctors should be able to prescribe them. As Ciara Lee reports it could fuel the race to invest in the electronic devices.
On offer soon from your doctor? Maybe. A UK government agency is calling for e-cigarettes to be made available on prescription. Public Health England says the devices are about 95 percent less harmful than regular smoking. And it says they could be a gamer-changer in helping people to give up tobacco. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR KEVIN FENTON, PUBLIC HEALTH ENGLAND, SAYING: "As time progresses we're going to accumulate more evidence and more data both on the use of e-cigarettes and their impacts. So we'll be able to update our estimates in terms of the long term use. But for the short and medium term as an aid to help people to quit, we certainly want to see more people embarking on that journey." Not everyone is convinced. Last year the World Health Organisation came out against e-cigarettes saying that governments should be regulating their use more strictly. The global tobacco industry sells about 5.7 trillion regular cigarettes a year. But the number is shrinking due to increased health awareness, weak consumer spending and higher taxes. Companies like Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco both reported falling revenue on Wednesday from traditional cigarettes. They're offsetting that with specialist brands and e-cigarettes are increasingly playing a part. Some firms in the industry have already bought makers of the metal devices Studies like this could fuel further investment - in a product already used by 2.6 million people in the UK.