UNDER 18s in Worcester are to be discouraged from smoking e-cigarettes amid fears over their safety.

Worcestershire County Council says it will be doing "all it can" to keep youngsters here away from tobacco products in general, including the popular electronic cigarettes.

An estimated 1.3 million people in the UK currently use e-cigarettes, which were designed to help smokers quit and work by delivering a hit of nicotine before giving off water vapour to mimic the feeling and look of smoking.

"The county council has taken the view that the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) should be subject to the same restrictions as other smoking products under its Smoke-free Policy," said Cllr Marcus Hart, chair of Worcestershire Tobacco Control Alliance.

"Around two thirds of smokers say they smoked regularly before they were 18, showing that this is an addiction largely taken up in childhood.

"We're concerned that e-cigarettes may be seen as a so-called 'gateway' drug, introducing young people to smoking behaviour, so we need to do all we can to keep children and young people away from tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

"We're committed to doing all we can to help children and young people lead a healthy life and fully support the government's decision (earlier this week) to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to under 18's."

The county council says e-cigarettes are not currently licensed in the UK, adding there is "no evidence to show that they are a safe form of nicotine delivery".

The NHS, however, says e-cigarettes will be licensed and regulated as an aid to quit smoking from 2016.

Dr David Tibbutt, a city council and member of the Smoke Free Worcestershire Alliance, says e-cigarettes present "a number of unknowns".

"If you say that e-cigarettes are okay, are you then going to have people (who start by smoking e-cigarettes) progress to normal cigarettes?" he said.

"There's no doubt that if there's nicotine in them then people could get addicted.

"We have to be cautious."