Electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) which do not meet new regulatory standards will be banned from 2016, according to new rules from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The MHRA has decided that all nicotine-containing products (NCPs) such as electronic cigarettes are to be regulated as medicines, a move which it believes will make products safer by eliminating poor grade and unsatisfactory products from the market.

The quality of NCPs currently for sale “varied considerably” the MHRA said, with nicotine levels in many e-cigs considerably different from the levels stated on their labels.

“The decision announced today provides a framework that will enable good quality products to be widely available,” said group manager of Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines, Jeremy Mean.

“It’s not about banning products that some people find useful, it’s about making sure that smokers have an effective alternative that they can rely on to meet their needs,” Mean added.

Manufacturers will now have three years in which to ensure that their products meet the safety, quality and efficacy requirements of a medicine.

The UK government will now press for EU law to create a Europe-wide legal position on NCPs as medicines through the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive. 

The European Commission has said it expects the new legislation to be adopted in 2014 and for it to come into effect in the UK from 2016

“Smokers are harmed by the deadly tar and toxins in tobacco smoke, not the nicotine,” chief medical officer professor dame Sally Davies said.

“More and more people are using e-cigarettes, so it’s only right these products are properly regulated to be safe and work effectively.”

Electronic cigarettes are currently regulated as consumer products in the UK. Their use has grown rapidly with an estimated 1.3 million people using them in 2013.