SAINTS have struck a substantial sponsorship deal with a supplier of electronic cigarettes.

Totally Wicked has secured naming rights of Langtree Park’s North Stand for the next two years.

The deal could see Saints branded e-cigarettes – which contain no tobacco – being sold in the stadium.

Saints say it will be able to offer its existing smokers “an alternative and encourage them to stop smoking”.

The sale of e-cigs – which are stocked at shops in St Helens town centre, including at a store in Barrow Arcades run by ex-Saints player Vila Matautia – is a growing market.

They are not covered by the smoking ban, and can be used in pubs, bars, stadiums and other public buildings.

The use of them, known as ‘vaping’ is said to be increasing rapidly, however, accompanying this is a significant health debate.

The e-cigs are an electronic alternative to tobacco and produce water vapour instead of smoke.

They come in two parts. Liquid nicotine is in one end and in the other are a rechargeable battery and an atomiser.

The nicotine is vaporised and absorbed through the mouth and a water vapour is released.

However, because there is no tobacco in the e-cigs, they produce no tar, which is the substance in ordinary cigarettes that causes disease and kills.

Earlier his month the BBC featured a story citing figures suggesting 700,000 people used them in the UK last year.

Some medical experts suggest they could have potentially huge health benefits, by drawing smokers away from cigarettes.

But others raise concerns about the safety and regulation of them, with the British Medical Association stating that it will take time and careful studies to fully assess the effects.

A statement published on the medical body’s website reads: “But there is a lack of rigorous, peer-reviewed studies to support the use of e-cigarettes as a safe and effective nicotine-replacement therapy.

“They are also subject to limited regulation, and are not licensed as a medicine in the UK.

“These devices may also undermine efforts to prevent or stop smoking by making cigarette use seem normal in public and at work.

“At the BMA's annual meeting, members agreed that electronic cigarettes should be included in the ban on smoking in public places.”

Totally Wicked - which claims to have more than 200 retailers throughout the UK, USA, mainland Europe and China stocking its products - promotes e-cigs as having an “abundance of benefits”.

After striking the deal, Saints are very much of the view that the product can help reduce smoking in St Helens.

The club plans to host “cigarette amnesty matches” where special Saints-branded disposable electronic cigarettes will be handed out free of charge to supporters who present a conventional cigarette in exchange.

Dave Hutchinson, head of sales and marketing, said: “Approximately 25 per cent of our supporter base smoke and we, as their club, take a responsibility in offering an alternative to conventional cigarettes.

“The club plays an active role in not only sport, but health and education and we believe this pioneering move will not only help raise awareness of the damage smoking tobacco can do but also deter people from taking on the habit in the first place.

“The club have tried various activities to help its supports quit smoking, some have been with success, and this latest initiative is a further step in trying to further this cause.

“Totally Wicked are true innovators themselves and we thank them for their support as we look forward to working together in the future.”

Fraser Cropper, business development director at Totally Wicked, said their aim was for Saints to become the first ‘vaping friendly’ rugby league club in the world.

The company operates a similar partnership with Burnley Football Club.