One of the world's leading tobacco control experts has called for stronger regulation of e-cigarettes and warned policy makers of their potential dangers.
The warning comes on the same day the ACT Government prepares to release all 242 submissions to a discussion paper of possible reform of e-cigarette legislation.
Professor Srinath Reddy, a preventive cardiologist and president of the World Heart Federation, said that considering e-cigarettes as beneficial to public health was "a trap we should avoid".
"There are several reasons why I believe they should not be seen as harmless and they should be strongly regulated like tobacco," he said.
"They do have harmful substances like tobacco and they are potentially a gateway drug to tobacco addiction and are being taken up by young people."
Professor Reddy, who will address an audience at the ACT Legislative Assembly on Wednesday evening, said the debate over e-cigarettes was ongoing but governments should embrace strong restrictions.
"We have already committed this mistake before with low-tar cigarettes and ultimately the health effects were just as bad," he said.
"There is a section of the tobacco control community that believes e-cigarettes can be a harm reduction substance but we believe they need to be heavily regulated as some of the harms are unknown."
More than 240 submissions were lodged with the ACT Government after the release of a discussion paper in November, with many believed to be from e-cigarette users in the ACT.
While the ACT Government has not yet announced a policy stance on e-cigarettes, the nature of many submissions reveal divided opinion.
The Cancer Council has voiced concerns that e-cigarette use could act as a gateway to tobacco use by teenagers, despite admitting further scientific research was required.
The Australia Medical Association has also condemned the use of starter packs that are promoted to new users.
"The wide variety of sweet fruit, candy, alcohol and chocolate-flavoured nicotine solutions for use with e-cigarettes could appeal to children and young people," the submission said.
But the Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs Association ACT criticised the discussion paper for not paying enough attention to potential benefits of e-cigarettes and relying on assumptions.
Professor Reddy said policy makers should be wary of tobacco companies investing in e-cigarette ventures and their motives.
"Big tobacco is rapidly acquiring e-cigarette companies and becoming the leading distributors of the products, so why on earth would they want to invest in something that is likely to drive them out of business?," he said.
E-cigarette manufacture Nicoventures, which was established by British American Tobacco in 2010, welcomed the move to "introduce a legislative framework which will allow access to regulated e-cigarette products".
"The fact that there have been a vast number of submissions shows the need for the government to act and make e-cigarettes legally available to smokers wishing to quit or reduce their tobacco intake, said director of regulatory affairs Stephen Jenkins.
Professor Reddy said Australia's leadership in plain-packaging and tobacco tax reforms had been recognised internationally, with many governments looking to introduce similar measures.