VAPING is not “risk-free” warn government experts, who are calling for a crackdown on sales to kids.
The biggest ever review of the devices found they are significantly safer than smoking.
But using e-cigs still carries health risks – particularly for youngsters and those who have never lit up.
It comes as data shows vaping among teen girls has more than doubled in just three years, with one in five now using the gadgets.
And the number of kids overall using e-cigarettes rising by 50 per cent since 2018.
The latest analysis by King's College London, commissioned by the Department of Health, looked at more than 400 studies and concluded vaping is less harmful than cigarettes.
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Experts said GPs should dole out e-cigs to smokers to help cut their risk of harm.
Every year spent lighting up cuts life expectancy by around three months – and half of tobacco-users will be killed by their habit if they don’t quit.
Asked whether she backed NHS prescribing, researcher Dr Leonie Brose from King’s College London, said: “Yes, as a stop smoking aid.
“We have seen that people who use vaping for smoking cessation are more likely to be successful.”
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But experts warned more must be done to discourage young Brits from ever taking up vaping.
While it is illegal to sell the devices to under-18s, social media is filled with images of teens trying out flavours such as pink lemonade, strawberry banana and mango.
Lead researcher Professor Ann McNeill, a professor of tobacco addiction at King’s College London, said: “Smoking is uniquely deadly and will kill one in two regular sustained smokers, yet around two-thirds of adult smokers, who would really benefit from switching to vaping, don’t know that vaping is less harmful.
“However, the evidence we reviewed indicates that vaping is very unlikely to be risk-free.
“So we strongly discourage anyone who has never smoked from taking up vaping or smoking.”
The study found vapers had higher levels of some cancer-causing compounds, compared to non-smokers.
When it comes to selling e-cigs to under-18s, researchers said councils must do more.
They warned efforts "have been scaled down and compliance with regulations is not enough to prevent underage sales and access to illicit products."
Dr Jeanelle DeGruchy, deputy chief medical officer for England, said: "Every minute someone is admitted to hospital in England due to smoking.
"Every eight minutes someone dies a smoking-related death.
"Vaping is substantially less harmful than smoking so the message is clear, if the choice is between smoking and vaping, choose vaping.
"If the choice is between vaping and fresh air, choose fresh air."
*STOPTOBER launches tomorrow [Sat] to help smokers stub out the habit.
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