The costs of vaping should be decreased for smokers in developing countries as an urgent “human rights issue”, researchers have told a pro-tobacco conference in London.

Addressing a 300-strong audience of tobacco and vaping industry representatives, Helen Redmond, a specialist in substance use at New York City University’s Silver School of Social Work, said people in poor countries should not be priced away from nicotine-based items that could help them to stop smoking.

Redmond compared the medicinal qualities of nicotine with cannabis and stressed “the want to get vaping to the poorest, who need it most”.

“It’s a human rights issue – as a harm reduction device, prices must come down,” she said. “Nicotine will not be a dirty drug, it will help with depression and anxiety.”

Academics at the 2018 global tobacco and nicotine forum called for more research to the possible medical benefits associated with nicotine and a focus on the growth and development of innovative nicotine-based products which will provide a “smoke-free society” and reduce the dangerous effects of cigarettes.

Viscount Matt Ridley, an author and member of the home of Lords, joined the chorus of experts promoting vaping as a kind of harm reduction, arguing that subjecting electronic cigarette to the same workplace restrictions as smoking could be viewed as an infringement of the individual’s human rights.

“We should treat vaping in the same manner that people treat usage of mobile phones,” said Ridley. “The best way to get people to stop [smoking] is to innovate with technology”.

Ridleytold the conference that, regardless of the industry’s continued concentrate on promoting nicotine-based products as a form of harm reduction, public opinion was moving far from vaping due to media “scare stories”. He compared the industry’s plight, particularly in america, for that faced by “bootleggers and baptists during prohibition”.

Clive Bates, director of advocacy group Counterfactual, described the views of anti-tobacco campaigners as “hostile and focused”, accusing them of getting rival commercial interests using a goal of “annihilating” the business. Warning in the damage caused by “those using a vested fascination with causing alarm”, he explained that although critics laboured to produce evidence to “maintain the narrative of harm”, technological advances meant the transition to vape-type products was prone to become mandatory rather than voluntary.

There are 1.1 billion smokers worldwide and 6 million die annually being a direct reaction to smoking. A further 890,000 people a year die prematurely due to second-hand smoke, based on the World Health Organization.

Just one cigarette contains greater than 200 carcinogenic chemicals, along with the addictive stimulant nicotine. Scientists and academics have to date failed to reach agreement on benefits and drawbacks of long-term nicotine use.

With a plenary session, clinical psychologist Karl Fagerström called for research into the positive benefits of nicotine, that he believes can assist people experiencing Alzheimer’s and depression. Also, he advised wgferg the business should move from combustible to nicotine-based products.

“No one is thinking about establishing what the advantages of smoking nicotine are,” Fagerström said.

Martin Jarvis, professor of health psychology at University College London, saidthe US was moving towards prohibition-type enforcement, using the Food and Drug Administration willing to reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes.

“Society doesn’t understand nicotine,” said Jarvis, “because they think it is particularly bad.”

But Jarvis said “describing nicotine for being addictive is justified”, adding that “80% of smokers wished they never started”.