NORTH-EAST health campaigners have expressed alarm about a growing belief that e-cigarettes are as harmful as tobacco smoking.

New figures from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) suggest use of electronic cigarettes has grown over the past year with around 2.6m vapers in Britain.

The numbers using electronic cigarettes has grown from an estimated 2.1m in 2014 and nearly all of this increase is attributable to an increase in the number of ex-smokers using electronic cigarettes to avoid far more harmful tobacco.

Data from the Smokefree Britain Survey shows that electronic cigarette use between 2014 and 2015 has increased among ex-smokers (from 4.5 per cent to 6.7 per cent) remained the same among current smokers (17.6 per cent) and remained extremely rare among never-smokers (0.2 per cent).

The most popular reason current vapers gave for using electronic cigarettes was to help them stop smoking completely (48 per cent) and to prevent them from relapsing (38 per cent).

But over the same period there has been a growing false belief that electronic cigarettes could be as harmful as smoking:

Among the general population between 2014 and 2015 there was a significant increase in the perception that electronic cigarettes are as harmful or more harmful than smoking (from 15 per cent to 22 per cent).

Among smokers who have never tried electronic cigarettes this perception of harm has nearly doubled from 12 per cent to 22 per cent.

Martyn Willmore, spokesman for the North-East tobacco control office, Fresh, said: “The latest estimate is that electronic cigarettes carry 95 per cent less risk than smoking, and it is clear they could offer real health benefits for North-East smokers who have struggled to quit and who are considering switching.

“We cannot say that electronic cigarettes are 100 per cent harmless but the vast majority of deaths and illness from smoking come from the tar and other poisons in tobacco, not from the nicotine.”