(Reuters) - Smokers who are unable to quit should be able to get access to nicotine products which do not carry the same health risks as cigarettes, doctors said on Friday.
Encouraging people who can not, or will not stop smoking, to switch to lower-risk nicotine products could save millions of lives, says the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).
In a report: "Harm Reduction in Nicotine Addiction: Helping People Who Can't Quit," it accused the government of failing to help heavily addicted smokers through a lack of innovation and burdensome regulation.
Professor John Britton, chair of the RCP tobacco advisory group, said: "Smokers smoke because they are addicted to nicotine, but it isn't nicotine in cigarette smoke that kills: it's the hundreds of other toxic chemicals that come with it.
"The best thing that a smoker can do for his or her health is to quit all smoking and nicotine use completely.
"However, there are millions of smokers who can't quit, or else who are unlikely to quit, and those people need nicotine products that can satisfy their addiction without killing them."
Existing products like special chewing gum deliver nicotine at low and slow levels, often failing to give the smoker the hit that they crave, and therefore, failing to get the smoker off cigarettes.
The RCP believes there is a big a gap in the market, which it wants to fill.
The college said nicotine is not especially harmful, so "if we could provide the nicotine 'hit' that smokers seek in a form that is acceptable and effective as a cigarette substitute, millions of lives could be saved".
Its report blamed the regulatory system for actively discouraging the development, marketing and promotion of such products, and called for the entire nicotine market to be reformed by a new regulatory framework.
The RCP also called for a reversal of the advantage cigarettes have in the marketplace.
Cigarette smoking caused 100 million deaths in the 20th century, the report said.
Kate Matrunola, spokeswoman for British American Tobacco, said: "We agree with the Royal College of Physicians that smokers should be able to buy a lower risk alternative to cigarettes. We believe that should include snus, a smokeless tobacco product from Sweden which the Royal College has said is significantly less harmful than smoking.
"Snus is banned in the EU, bar Sweden, and some other countries. We believe it should be legal everywhere because it offers smokers who don't want to quit a far less harmful alternative to lighting up a cigarette."
Some scientists however are concerned about snus because it keeps people addicted rather than encourages them to quit and is not completely harmless, they say.