Special sales booths for electronic cigarettes are increasingly becoming a feature of Irish shopping centres – but the Department of Health here is examining all research before giving a verdict on their use and safety.
The e-cigarettes, as they are known, give the smoker a nicotine hit but none of the dangerous ingredients in ordinary cigarettes.
However, a new study says they appear to be at least as effective as nicotine patches in helping people to give up smoking.
The findings, presented at the European Respiratory Society, showed similar numbers quitting with e-cigarettes as patches. It was also stressed that there needs to be long-term data on their safety.
A team at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, carried out the first clinical trial comparing the devices with nicotine patches in 657 people.
The findings, published in the 'Lancet', revealed that 7.3pc using e-cigarettes had quit after six months compared with 5.8pc using patches. However, the study did not involve enough people to definitively show which is the better option.
Prof Chris Bullen, from the University of Auckland, said: "Given the increasing popularity of these devices in many countries, and the accompanying regulatory uncertainty and inconsistency, larger, longer-term trials are urgently needed to establish whether these devices might be able to fulfil their potential as effective and popular smoking cessation aids."