E-cigarette vapour is extremely low.

Bosses should consider allowing workers to use e-cigarettes at their desks to cut smoking rates, according to government plans.

Health chiefs pledged to slash smoking rates from 15.5 per cent to 12 per cent in five years.

They said vaping was key, helping 22,000 smokers quit a year, and employers should be reminded that e-cigarette use was not illegal in offices.

This is despite scientists’ concerns over the potential health risk of the devices – particularly the chemicals used to flavour vapour.

In a push for a ‘smoke-free generation’, the Tobacco Control Plan saids: ‘E-cigarette use is not covered by smoke-free legislation and should not routinely be included in the requirements of an organisation’s smoke-free policy.’

Public Health England advice for employers about e-cigarettes, which have been used by 3million Britons in the decade they have been on the market, says bosses are free to decide whether to allow vaping by staff but should not ‘routinely’ ban it – although they must take into account the fact that vapour may be a nuisance and also affect asthmatics.

Its guidance says: ‘International peer-reviewed evidence indicates that the risk to the health of bystanders from exposure to e-cigarette vapour is extremely low.

‘The evidence of harm from second-hand exposure to vapour is not sufficient to justify the prohibition of e-cigarettes. Reasons other than the health risk to bystanders may exist for prohibiting e-cigarette use in all or part of a public place or workplace, such as commercial considerations and professional etiquette.’

E-cigarettes heat a liquid form of nicotine into vapour to be inhaled, avoiding the harm of tobacco smoke. Experts agree the devices are far safer than tobacco.

But many are worried about unresolved safety concerns, while others say they are a ‘gateway’ for teenagers to smoke tobacco.

Launching the strategy yesterday, public-health minister Steve Brine said: ‘Britain is a world-leader in tobacco control, and our tough action in the past decade has seen smoking rates in England fall to an all-time low of 15.5 per cent. But our vision is to create a smoke-free generation.

‘Smoking continues to kill hundreds of people a day in England, and we know the harms fall hardest on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. That’s why we are targeting prevention and local action to address the variation in smoking rates in our society, educate people about the risks and support them to quit for good.’

The plan also aims to cut smoking among 15-year-olds from 8 per cent to 3 per cent by 2022, and among pregnant women from 10.7 per cent to 6 per cent.

Duncan Selbie, of Public Health England, said: ‘We are at a pivotal point where an end is in sight and a smoke-free generation a reality.

‘But the final push, reaching the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, will undoubtedly be the hardest. Only by everyone pulling together can we hope to end the loss of life and suffering smoking has wreaked for far too long. Public Health England will do everything possible to make this happen.’

But Deborah Arnott, of Action on Smoking and Health, stressed that no new money had been put towards reaching the targets. She said: ‘Funding must be found if the Government is to achieve its vision of a “smoke-free generation”. The tobacco industry should be made to pay through a licence fee on the “polluter pays” principle.’

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