The electronic cigarette is not a legitimate therapy for smokers trying to quit contrary to what some marketers imply in their advertisements, the World Health Organization said on Friday.
"The electronic cigarette is not a proven nicotine replacement therapy," said Dr Ala Alwan, WHO's assistant director-general for noncommunicable diseases and mental health.
"WHO has no scientific evidence to confirm the product's safety and efficacy. Its marketers should immediately remove from their web sites and other informational materials any suggestion that WHO considers it to be a safe and effective smoking cessation aid," Alwan said in a statement.
The typical electronic cigarette is made of stainless steel, has a chamber for storing liquid nicotine in various concentrations, is powered by a rechargeable battery and resembles a real cigarette.
Users puff on it as they would a real cigarette, but they do not light it, and it produces no smoke. Rather, it produces a fine, heated mist, which is absorbed into the lungs.
Developed in China in 2004, the electronic cigarette is sold there and in numerous other countries, including Brazil, Canada, Finland, Israel, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Sweden, Turkey and Britain.
Marketers of the electronic cigarette typically describe it as a means to help smokers break their addictions to tobacco.
Some have even gone so far as to imply that WHO views it as a legitimate nicotine replacement therapy like nicotine gum, lozenges and patches, according to the WHO statement.
But WHO knows of no evidentiary basis for the marketers' claim that the electronic cigarette helps people quit smoking, the statement said.
"If the marketers of the electronic cigarette want to help smokers quit, then they need to conduct clinical studies and toxicity analyses and operate within the proper regulatory framework," said Douglas Bettcher, head of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative.