THE distinctively fruity scent gives the game away: another person is puffing away on an e-cigarette, a device widely seen as a less harmful alternative to genuine cigarettes. That description is supported by health organisations from NHS Scotland to the Royal College of Physicians.

But a study, funded by Cancer Research UK, and to be presented in Glasgow today at the 2018 National Cancer Research Institute Cancer Conference, makes interesting reading.Twenty-nine per cent of health professionals would not recommend e-cigarettes to cancer patients who already smoke. More than half of those surveyed did not know enough about e-cigarettes to make recommendations to patients. A quarter did not know whether e-cigarettes were less harmful than smoking. The researchers, with justification, say their findings indicate a need for clearer guidance and training for health professionals around endorsing e-cigarettes to cancer patients who smoke.

But concerns have been expressed that children and teenagers who have never smoked are turning to e-cigarettes, seeing them as “cool”, and drawn, at least in part, by the sweet or fruit flavours. The US Food and Drug Administration speaks of an “epidemic” among young people who are using the devices and are getting hooked on nicotine. A leading US manufacturer is to discontinue most of its flavoured e-cigarettes. A RAND Corporation study says that adolescents who vape are not only more likely to smoke cigarettes but are also likely to increase their use of both products eventually. On the other hand, a Public Health England e-cigarette evidence review, published last February, said the evidence did not support the concern that e-cigarettes were a route into smoking among young people.

The previous month, scientists said vaping may raise the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Though e-cigarettes may help people to give up smoking, there is as yet no clear consensus on the devices as a whole.