AN independent review by Scots and English researchers into the evidence surrounding e-cigarettes has recommended that hospital shops  should sell the devices to patients.

Public Health England (PHE), who published the review - which was partly conducted by experts at Stirling University - also said patients should be allowed to vape in private rooms.

It further recommended Government officials help manufacturers licence e-cigarettes as medical quitting aids - such a move would allow GPs to prescribe the devices to their patients who are trying to stop smoking.

Experts concluded that vaping only poses a small fraction of the risks of smoking and that e-cigarettes could be contributing to 20,000 new quits each year.

But the number of people using the products has "plateaued" and now stands at just under three million people in the UK, according to the review, which was conducted by experts from King's College London and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, as well as Stirling University researchers and Cancer Research UK.

One reason for this could be misconceptions about the levels of harm linked to the devices.

Following the review, PHE has made a number of recommendations about e-cigarettes.

Professor John Newton, director for health improvement at PHE, said: "Our new review reinforces the finding that vaping is a fraction of the risk of smoking, at least 95% less harmful, and of negligible risk to bystanders.

"Yet over half of smokers either falsely believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking or just don't know.

"It would be tragic if thousands of smokers who could quit with the help of an e-cigarette are being put off due to false fears about their safety."

Neil McCallum, MD of e-cigarette firm JAC Vapour and the only Scottish board member of the Independent British Vape Trade Association said: “This announcement from Public Health England is a major step forward in the fight against smoking. It is surprising that 40% of the 7 million current UK smokers have never tried an e-cigarette, when the evidence clearly shows they are much safer.

“Public Health England is calling on NHS Trusts to become truly smoke free by ensuring that e-cigarettes, alongside nicotine replacement therapies are available for sale in hospital shops; vaping policies to support smokers to quit and stay smoke free; smoking shelters be removed; and frontline staff take every opportunity to encourage and support patients to quit.

“We would encourage the Scottish Government to explore similar measures to encourage smokers to stop and to make a commitment to a smoke free Scotland.”

In September, NHS Health Scotland said e-cigarettes are "definitely" less harmful than smoking.

Dr Andrew Fraser, director of public health science at NHS Health Scotland, said then that vaping was not available on NHS prescription, but it was an option for those trying to quit. He added: “We would encourage people to consider them and we would encourage people providing smoking cessation services to offer them as an option to people who are willing to pay for them.”

In 2016, Scotland's largest health board ruled that e-cigarettes could be used within the grounds of its hospitals. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde decided to allow restricted use of the devices.

Tobacco smoking was banned across all health grounds in Scotland in April 2015, but health boards were given discretion over the use of vaping devices outside buildings.