The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) has expressed concern that e-cigarettes may actually increase smokers' dependence on nicotine.
It made the claim after a new poll revealed that two-thirds of e-cigarette users also smoke conventional cigarettes.
The poll was carried out on behalf of the ICS and involved 1,150 people aged 15 and older. It revealed that 17% of Irish adults now smoke and among these, 26% smoke 20 cigarettes per day, while 19% smoke 10 per day.
Among current smokers, the vast majority - 95% - are aware of e-cigarettes and among those who are aware of them, 56% have tried them, while 26% are currently using them.
Reasons for using them include trying to cut down or quit conventional smoking, financial reasons and to achieve better personal health.
Extrapolating these figures, the ICS estimates that there are around 210,000 e-cigarette users in Ireland. However, as these products are not regulated, no medical or pharmaceutical advice is given to purchasers.
The ICS is calling on the Government to regulate these products as medicinal products so that their use and safety can be monitored.
"This survey clearly shows that right now e-cigarettes are not a quitting aid as some people are led to believe. E-cigarettes are becoming an increasingly popular choice for smokers looking for a healthier lifestyle and to save money. But there are better, more proven ways to quit smoking than choosing devices that still have no regulations in Ireland," commented Kathleen O'Meara of the ICS.
She expressed concern that 5% of current smokers used e-cigarettes before they started smoking, and suggested that these products may act as a ‘gateway' to tobacco use.
The ICS emphasised that it cannot recommend e-cigarettes as there are no guarantees available on their long-term safety.
"Our research shows more than two-thirds of those surveyed agree that the sale of these devices should be banned to minors. A similar amount of people agree that not enough is known about the side-effects of using e-cigarettes," Ms O'Meara noted.
She insisted that if e-cigarettes are to be considered an effective quitting aid, ‘they need to be properly regulated by the Department of Health'.
"We are calling for them to be designated as a medicinal device in the same way nicotine patches and gum are now. Ireland is lagging behind on bringing in such laws. Austria, Sweden and Denmark have all introduced legislation making nicotine-containing e-cigarettes medicinal products.
"Nicotine is addictive and giving up is tough. There are more effective treatments that have been proven to increase your chances of quitting. E-cigarettes are not one of them," Ms O'Meara added.
The poll was conducted last month by Coyne Research on behalf of the ICS.