Rome: The Italian health ministry's top advisory body has recommended a ban on the smoking of electronic cigarettes in public places and their sale to pregnant women and minors.

The recommendation by the ministry's Superior Health Council came after France's Health Minister Marisol Touraine said she was planning similar restrictions. "Smoking an e-cigarette is smoking," she stated.

E-cigarettes contain an electronic inhaler that vaporises a liquid solution into an aerosol mist, simulating the act of tobacco smoking, and are marketed as a tool to help smokers quit tobacco.

Although the devices are considered safer than smoking, doctors continue to debate the possible impact of some of the vapours' ingredients - including propylene glycol, which irritates airways, and formaldehyde, which is known to raise lung and nasal cancer risk.

Doctors argue that more research is needed on e-cigarettes and their opponents also claim there is evidence they encourage children who have tried them to "graduate" to smoking real cigarettes.

Several countries have already outlawed e-cigarettes including Turkey, Brazil, Argentina and Singapore.

(Agencies)

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