Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) face increasing scrutiny. Their growing popularity is resulting in more attention being paid to them. Often, the devices are promoted as safer and effective alternatives to ordinary cigarettes by the companies behind them – and people believe that narrative. A recent Japanese study, contrary to what promoters believe, found that e-cigarettes produce as many as ten times more carcinogens than combustion cigarettes, according to reports.

“Without thorough studies to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a product like electronic cigarettes, consumers are essentially being used as the industry’s laboratory subjects with no safeguards for their protection. Given the allure of these products for teenagers, that is totally unacceptable. The one thing we know for sure: they deliver nicotine, which has addicted more people than all other drugs combined,” commented Robert Loehr, a partner with the Levin, Papantonio law firm who practices in the areas of personal injury and product liability litigation. “The FDA has published an advisory on the issue to educate the public.”

Carcinogens cause cancer. The researchers, at the direction of the Japanese Health Ministry, analyzed the vapor from e-cigarettes and found substances like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde were present in the vapor. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and acetaldehyde is strongly suspected to be a carcinogen too.

“Especially when the… wire (which vaporizes the liquid) gets overheated, higher amounts of those substances seem to be produced,” said Naoki Kunugita, one of the researchers on the team.

Currently, e-cigarettes face little regulation. It’s the wild west and the FDA is being urged to tackle the devices. To avoid regulation, the e-cigarette companies contend that the devices aren’t the same as combustion cigarettes and don’t pose the same health risks. This leaves little protection for consumers and puts them in positions of being vulnerable to deceptive information.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a ban on e-cigarettes in indoor spaces and, in August, warned that governments should prohibit the sale of the cigarettes to minors.

In the United States, the number of young people who have tried e-cigarettes has more than tripled since 2011 but actual regulation has been slow to come.

The FDA has issued a public advisory on e-cigarettes that warns people that from the regulators standpoint, the safety of e-cigarettes is largely a mystery and no regulation has been passed.

In the absence of significant studies on the subject, skepticism is a safe stance to take. Right now, that’s where things stand: in an absence of information. The Japanese study wasn’t published and it isn’t peer-reviewed, but it wasn’t commissioned to be. Maybe it will be and then more information will be available to the public. Until then, the information that is available indicates that e-cigarettes likely have their own risks, and users should be informed of those suspected risks instead of blindly believing whatever the product’s promoters are selling.

Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshual33.