An Australian health expert says smoking should be banned entirely, replacing cigarettes with superior alternatives.

Menzies School of Health researcher Dr Marita Hefler says it is time to consider a ban on the sale of cigarettes and other combustible tobacco products.

“The ongoing availability of cigarettes is an historical anomaly. Any other consumer product that kills up to two-thirds of its long-term users remaining legal is unimaginable,” she said in a commentary published in the international journal Tobacco Control.

The commentary was published alongside a new research paper which found up to 6.6 million premature deaths could be prevented over a ten year period in the US if smokers switched to e-cigarettes.

“E-cigarettes and heat-not-burn (HNB) products most closely mimic the nicotine delivery of cigarettes and have the greatest potential to displace the cigarette market,” Dr Hefler said.

Debate about the potential benefits and risks of these products has divided the public health community in recent years.

“Combustible tobacco is the most harmful end of the nicotine product spectrum and should be phased out. E-cigarettes and HNB products are not harmless. However they are almost certainly lower risk than cigarettes for current smokers,” Dr Hefler said.

In conjunction with phasing out cigarette sales, Dr Hefler is recommending that the less harmful products including e-cigarettes should be permitted in Australia with tight regulations equivalent to what is currently applied to cigarettes.

Ongoing independent research is also needed into the long term effects of using HNB and e-cigarettes, as knowledge is still evolving.