The rate of smoking among Australians with bipolar disorder is unacceptably high and it's crucial they get help to quit, concerned psychiatrists say.
Research shows nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) of people with the mood disorder, where people suffer from severe low and high moods, smoke tobacco.
With smoking a major cause of reversible heart disease, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists says it's "crucial" this rate is brought down.
"People with mental illness experience significantly poorer physical health and a reduced life expectancy of 15 -20 years compared to the general population - this is an unacceptable situation," said RANZCP president Professor Malcolm Hopwood.
Just quitting, however, can often be more difficult for bipolar people because their dependence on nicotine is "more severe".
As a result, a group of public health experts and psychiatrists, Dr Ratika Sharma, Professor David Castle and Dr Colin Mendelsohn, have argued the case for electronic cigarettes to be encouraged as an alternative to tobacco smoking.
"Additional approaches are urgently needed to reduce the devastating consequences to physical and mental health in those who are unable or unwilling to quit with conventional treatments. One novel option is switching to long term use of electronic cigarettes," they wrote in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.
Switching from tobacco to e-cigarettes has the potential to substantially reduce the health, financial and social equity gap experienced by this disadvantaged group, they say.
They wrote: "According to the Smoking Toolkit study (United Kingdom), e-cigarettes are now the most popular aid to quitting in the United Kingdom."
But Cancer Council Australia rejects the idea that e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to smoking tobacco.
Paul Grogan, Cancer Council Australia's director of public policy, says a summary of eight randomised control trials concluded that "treatments that worked in the general population also work for those with severe mental illness and appear approximately equally effective".
"For electronic cigarettes to be made available as a therapeutic device, they would first need to be approved for use by Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration," Mr Grogan said in a statement to AAP.
Earlier this month, the TGA maintained the current listing of liquid nicotine as a restricted poison.