In an attempt to improve air quality, e-cigarettes will soon be licensed as medicine in the U.K. Beginning in 2016, when new European tobacco regulations come into place, electronic cigarettes will be classified as over-the-counter medicine, and will still be sold in convenience stores, Reuters reports.

“While it’s best to quit completely, I realize that not every smoker can and it is much better to get nicotine from safer sources such as nicotine replacement therapy,” Britain’s Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies said in a statement. “It’s only right (e-cigarettes) are properly regulated to be safe and work effectively.”

Davies added that smokers are harmed by tobacco smoke, not nicotine – making e-cigarettes a safer choice than traditional cigarettes. While a few countries have banned e-cigarettes such as Brazil, Norway and Singapore, the U.K. has opted to regulate the product.

Patented in 2003, electronic cigarettes operate on small lithium batteries that atomize a liquid solution of nicotine. While e-cigarettes appear to emit smoke, it’s a vapor similar to stage fog. With smoking bans in place, e-cigarettes have become a popular alternative for smokers – and have been marketed as such, the Los Angeles Times reports

"It's safe smoking -- like smoking with a condom on," William Taskas, a Canadian distributor of e-cigarettes, said.

Opponents to the licensing regulation are concerned that children and non-smokers might mistakenly use e-cigarettes. "Marketing of these products must now be closely monitored,” Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, told the BBC.

E-cigarette manufacturers say that the new classification might make it harder to market. “Medical regulation which could restrict access to these lifestyle products is entirely unjustified,” Damien Scott, commercial manager of e-cigarette maker SKYCIG, told AP.

After a legal battle in 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it would regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco devices as opposed to medical ones which would face stricter rules, AP reports. As e-cigarettes continue to gain popularity, with an estimated 2.5 million users in the U.S., the FDA says it plans on asserting greater regulating authority in the future.