HEALTH chiefs should not ignore experts who claim e-cigarettes have the potential to save millions of lives, said county health boss Azhar Ali.

A total of 53 researchers from 15 countries have written to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to urge it not to ‘control and suppress’ the devices.

The WHO is preparing to publish recommendations about e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine in a vapour, and the letter urged the global health adviser not to impose regulations on the products in the same way it does with conventional cigarettes.

Azhar Ali, health chief at Lancashire County Council, said: “We can’t ignore the research and we need to look carefully at the impact of e-cigarettes.

“Do they save lives or do they encourage youngsters to get hooked on nicotine? I don’t think there’s enough evidence out there yet, which we need to see before bringing in new regulations.”

Neil Pritchard, general manager at the Electronic Cigarette Company, which was launched in Blackburn six years ago, said: “I’d absolutely support what these researchers are saying.

“We’ve sold over half a million products and regularly get customers saying they’ve changed their lives in terms of their finances and their health.

“But at the same time we would welcome any regulations that will make the industry safer and get rid of some of the poorer quality products on the market, as it would allow us to stand taller.”

The letter to WHO said: “The potential for tobacco harm reduction products to reduce the burden of smoking related disease is very large, and these products could be among the most significant health innovations of the 21st Century – perhaps saving hundreds of millions of lives.”

But Dr David Wrigley, who represents Lancashire doctors in the British Medical Association, said: “Too little is known about e-cigarettes and whilst they may help some people stop smoking there is a lot of concern that they glamourise smoking and children who have never smoked are attracted to e-cigarettes.

“The risk then is that they may then move on to real cigarettes and all the harm that causes. The safety of e-cigarettes has not been established.

“There should be a ban on advertising of e-cigarettes and I would welcome much more research.”