Cloud of smoke surrounding the use of electronic cigarettes in Scottish companies.

An 117mm electronic cigarette.

SMOKERS at one of Scotland’s biggest companies have been banned from using electronic cigarettes at their desks.

Finance firm Standard Life say the e-cigs – which contain a nicotine solution but produce no smoke – breach their strict no-smoking rules.

A-list celebrities including Kate Moss, Britney Spears and Johnny Depp have been known to use e-cigs and one manufacturer alone claims to have 20,000 customers north of the border.

The battery-powered “healthy” cigarettes, which typically cost £20 – £30, heat up the nicotine solution, giving users a hit of their favourite drug and producing steam. A red LED at the tip of the e-cig completes the effect.

But Standard Life, which employs 9,000 people in Edinburgh, says e-cig users will have to go outside to get their fix like regular cigarette users.

She said: “Standard Life has been a non-smoking company for over 20 years and we have no plans to introduce e-cigarettes. We are very active in the promotion of staff’s health and well being.

“We encourage and support staff if they decide to stop smoking through our occupational health department and the availability of on-site smoking cessation classes.”

Some of Scotland’s biggest public sector employers do allow e-cigs. Glasgow City Council confirmed staff were allowed to use the devices at their desks. Workers at Edinburgh City Council are also free to switch on their e-cigs after the authority said it had “no policy”.

And Lloyds Banking Group – which includes Scottish Widows and HBOS – said that while they were anti-smoking they did not have a company policy on e-cigs.

Prof John Britton, chairman of the Royal College of Physicians Tobacco Advisory Group, said that e-cigarettes had the potential to save millions of lives.

He said: “The likelihood is that smoking electronic cigarettes is better than smoking tobacco.

“Electronic cigarettes have the potential to save lives. The concept of nicotine replacement is powerful and good.”

Pro-smoking organisation Forest accused Standard Life of treating staff like children.

Director Simon Clark said: “It is utterly crazy. A lot of smokers use them to help them to cut down on smoking, or to try to quit. If companies don’t want them to go outside for extended periods then allowing them to smoke an electronic cigarette at their desk seems logical.”

“It is completely ridiculous to ban them. If it’s because they look from a distance like cigarettes then they are basically treating workers like children.”

SkyCig, one of the distributors of e-cigarettes in Scotland claims to have around 20,000 customers and to have replaced 24 million cigarettes across the UK last year.

But Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of anti-tobacco charity ASH Scotland said it supported Standard Life.

She said: “If a company wants to ban e-cigarettes in their offices that could help avoid the impression that smoking is normal or desirable thing.

“Tobacco is not a normal product – it kills half of its consumers if used as intended.

“E-Cigarettes are much less harmful than normal cigarettes and some people may find them useful in helping them to quit smoking, however there is still a lot of research to be done both on their safety and on their effectiveness as a stop-smoking aid.”

E-cigs use replaceable nicotine solution cartridges which may contain up to 16mg of nicotine in solution.

On inhalation the cartridge is heated and a fine mist is produced which is absorbed into the lungs.