LONDON -- Britain will start regulating electronic cigarettes and other products containing nicotine as medicines, according to the country's top regulator.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated products that turn nicotine into a vapor inhaled by the user.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said in a statement yesterday that it would treat e-cigarettes as medicines, "so that people using these products have the confidence they are safe, are of the right quality and work."
E-cigarettes and other nicotine products will be licensed in the U.K. from 2016, giving manufacturers time. The U.K. regulator says e-cigarettes aren't recommended until then, but it won't ban them.
"While it's best to quit completely, I realize that not every smoker can and it is much better to get nicotine from safer sources," Britain's chief medical officer, Sally Davies, said in a statement. Cigarettes are exempt from the regulation.
Last week, Britain's independent health watchdog said smokers unable to go cold turkey should use nicotine products such as gum and patches to help them cut down. It hadn't recommended e-cigarettes, because they weren't regulated.
Experts say smokers are at risk from the toxins and tar in cigarettes, not the nicotine.
Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in England, killing about 80,000 people every year. Once e-cigarettes are licensed, they will be available for sale as over-the-counter medicines.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration announced in 2011 that it would regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products and won't try to regulate them under stricter rules for medical drug-delivery devices.