SCOTLAND'S high streets are being boosted by a rise in tobacconists thanks to the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes, research suggests.

A report by financial services firm PwC shows a 75 per cent increase in the stores in 2015, however experts claim the rise is simply a "short spike" due to the recent popularity of vaping.

Overall, the rate of closures on the country's high streets improved slightly to just over one per week, with fast food outlets and maternity clothing stores also propping up the figures.

Money shops saw the biggest rate of decline (50 per cent) over the year, followed by men's clothing shops, while banks, pawnbrokers and pubs also experienced a drop.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Scotland welcomed the improvements on the high street, but argued that more needs to be done to stop larger firms pulling out of town centres.

Colin Borland, head of external affairs for FSB Scotland, said: "The fact that fewer retailers are literally shutting up shop has to be good news. And, whether or not vaping is for you, it is heartening that new industries are choosing to base themselves on the high street, rather than setting up exclusively online.

"However, we continue to see large private and public sector bodies choosing to consolidate their estate and pull out of town centres. The result is that we see the same towns and high streets hit time and again with closures."

The figures, taken from the Local Data Company, looked at more than 65,000 businesses with five or more outlets across the UK.

In Scotland, a total of 280 of those shops closed down in the year while 221 opened, leading to an overall reduction of 59 shops, compared to 66 in 2014.

Bruce Cartwright, head of business recovery at PwC Scotland, said: "With the notable exception of Brantano Footwear, there have been fewer high-profile closures.

"We do see some growth, albeit many of these are small operations or franchises such as stores offering forms of vaping or e-cigarette advice.

"The likelihood is that this increase is a short spike rather than the beginning of a large, ongoing trend."

Retail experts said the report, published today, shows the changing nature of retail in Scotland, with the internet and a move towards more experience-based shopping both having an impact.

Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at Stirling University, claimed shoppers are looking for more "entertainment and life enhancement" rather than simply buying what they need.

He said: "I think what this research reflects is the changing nature of our high streets.

"In the financial sector, I thing regulation factors, the decline of cheques and of course the switch to online banking are all having an impact.

"And in fact, when you look at the losers, a lot of them take in the stuff that a lot more people are moving online for - cheque centres, banks, bookmakers."

However, he added that for some store types, the numbers are so small that "you cannot read too much into it".

Martin Cowie, head of private business at PwC in Scotland, added that "online shopping continues to play a major role in the changing shape of the high street".

In individual town performance, only Perth bucked the trend of decline, with eight stores closing and nine opening - a 0.62 per cent increase.

Edinburgh and Falkirk were the biggest losers, with an overall drop of -16 and -12 stores respectively.

Glasgow had one of the smallest overall reductions, with just four more closures than openings, a 0.46 per cent drop.

Figures released today by the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) also show the number of people visiting Scotland's shops was down 1.1 per cent in February this year compared to 2015.

Both high streets and shopping centres reported a decline in footfall last month, while retail parks saw 2.5 per cent year-on-year increase.