Electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) could prevent thousands of premature deaths from smoking each year, an influential team of public health experts has claimed.

Co-written by Professor Robert West, the UCL study estimates that for every million smokers who switch from tobacco to e-cigs, over 6,000 premature deaths could be prevented in the UK.

E-cig vapour is considerably less toxic than tobacco smoke, with concentrations of harmful substances generally over twenty times lower, it added.

The study comes just days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a report in which it called for e-cigs to be banned in public places, whilst also claiming that they could ‘re-normalise’ smoking and act as a ‘gateway’ into it.

West dismissed the claims: “Current e-cig use in young never-smokers is so rare that we cannot even test the idea that it could act as a gateway.”

“I completely understand concerns about potential risks from this phenomenon but it is vital that public health experts separate opinion from evidence and present the latter as objectively as possible,” he added.

The WHO report was also criticised by researchers at the National Addiction Centre based at King’s College London and the Tobacco Dependence Unit at Queen Mary University.

Professor Ann McNeill, lead author and professor of Tobacco Addiction at King’s College London, said: “We were surprised by the negativity of the commissioned review, and found it misleading and not an accurate reflection of available evidence.

“The WHO’s approach will make it harder to bring these products to market than tobacco products, inhibit innovation and put off smokers from using e-cigs, putting us in danger of foregoing the public health benefits these products could have.”