Thought electronic cigarettes was a safe way to quit real smoking? Think again. Electronic cigarettes have been banned in Hong Kong, Australia and Canada. Not only have they been found to contain cancer-causing compounds but many of them leak these dangerous chemicals.

How do they work? Fundamentally they provide the user with a hit of nicotine without burning tobacco. The electronic cigarette has a battery, an atomizer and a cartridge containing nicotine and propylene glycol. When the user sucks the thing a sensor activates the battery which makes the tip glow red to simulate smoking and also heats the atomizer. The chemicals are then vapourised and users can inhale them into their lungs.

Amazingly, in the US the use of these objects has not been banned. The US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has tested them and found some contained diethylene glycol which has demonstrated acute toxicity in animal experiments and tobacco-specific nitrosamines that are a known cancer-causing substance. Additionally, not only do electronic cigarettes contain harmful substances it is also a fact that different manufacturers use differing amounts so users don't know exactly what levels of muck they are sucking into their bodies.

The USFDA did stop the importation of e-cigarettes on the grounds they are an unapproved drug-delivery devices. However, two electronic cigarette manufacturers took the USFDA to court to oppose this action and somehow managed to win.

The United Kingdom is no better. Here electronic cigarettes marketed as a smoking-cessation aid must be licensed and regulated as a medicine, but, and this is really silly, their use as a recreational smoking alternative is unrestricted.

The evidence against electronic cigarettes is building and a research team from University of California, Riverside has investigated how safe they are. They examined the design and accuracy of labeling, the levels of nicotine content and whether the devices leaked.

The team found lack of content warnings, confusing usage instructions and insufficient information about precisely what is contained in the electronic cigarettes. Kamlesh Asotra of the University of California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program - which part-funded the study - confirmed that "virtually nothing is known about the toxicity of the vapours generated by these e-cigarettes."

The research team also discovered most of the cartridges were found to leak, which could lead to exposure to dangerous and addictive chemicals. Manufacture was unregulated and environmentally sensitive disposal methods lacking.

The study concluded that electronic cigarettes pose a health risk to users and should be banned pending further investigation.

So the bottom line for all you puffers out there is you're better of using plain old will-power than potentially dangerous electronic cancer-sticks.