"We want to ensure licensed nicotine-containing products – including e-cigarettes – which make medicinal claims are available and meet appropriate standards of safety, quality and efficacy to help reduce the harms from smoking," said the MHRA.
E-cigarettes, will not, however, be routinely available on NHS prescription unless NICE rules favourably on their cost-effectiveness as an aid to smoking cessation.
Uncertainty remains over the long-term effects of the products, which use a battery-operated heating element to vaporise nicotine solution without the use of tobacco. The BMA has raised concerns over the lack of conclusive evidence of their effectiveness as a smoking cessation aid, the variability of the components of e-cigarette vapour, and the absence of a significant health benefit associated with dual use of e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes.
Tim Ballard, vice-chair of the RCGP, told The Telegraph that "GPs would be very wary of prescribing them until there was clear evidence of their safety and of their efficacy in helping people to quit."
Public Health England has said it considers e-cigarettes to be at least 95% safer than tobacco cigarettes, which cause lung cancer and many other diseases.