There is a lingering suspicion among many observers that electronic cigarettes re-normalise smoking and that, in doing so, they are all vapour and mirrors when it comes to health.

For their part, vapers say no smoke passes their lips – only vapour – and that e-cigarettes have caused them not only to quit smoking but to despise it. That view from the frontline receives strong support today, with a report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) that e-cigarettes can help smokers give up their addiction to tobacco.

Indeed, in a debate often characterised by confusion and uncertainty, the RCP is unequivocally clear in its finding that e-cigarettes can be a public health tool. Professor John Britton, who chairs the organisation’s Tobacco Advisory Group, says the report “lays to rest” almost all concerns about vaping. “Smokers,” he counsels, “should be reassured that these products can help them quit all tobacco use forever.”

The report notes that almost all 2.6 million e-cigarette users in the UK are or have been smokers, and that a third no longer smoke traditional cigarettes. That success is attributed partly to e-cigarettes reproducing “many of the behavioural and sensory characteristics of smoking”. True, long-term use might induce a threat of chronic illness, but the researchers put this at under five per cent of the risk from smoking tobacco.

The anti-smoking charity, ASH Scotland, raises an important point about preventing promotion of e-cigarettes to non-smokers, particularly children. But for many adults, far from being a gateway to tobacco, vaping has provided an exit from it.

And, with legislators often finding it difficult to find their way through the fug of claim and counter-claim, there is a need to heed the RCP’s warning about over-regulation potentially discouraging smokers from taking this evidently useful step back to full re-normalisation: That is to say, the breathing of fresh air.