Image: Electronic cigarettes
Frederic J. Brown  /  AFP - Getty Images file
The inventor of the electronic cigarette, Hon Lik, smokes his invention in Beiijng on May 25.
updated 7/22/2009 4:11:59 PM ET 2009-07-22T20:11:59

Federal health officials said Wednesday they have found cancer-causing ingredients in electronic cigarettes, despite manufacturers' claims the products are safer than tobacco cigarettes.

The Food and Drug Administration said testing of products from two leading electronic cigarette makers turned up several toxic chemicals, including a key ingredient in antifreeze. FDA scientists said they tested 19 varieties of cigarettes, many of which contained fruit and candy flavors.

Public health advocates have complained the products are marketed toward young people and can serve as a "gateway" to tobacco smoking. Because electronic cigarettes are not covered by federal tobacco laws, they are often easier for young people to purchase.

Electronic cigarettes produce a nicotine mist absorbed directly into the lungs. Most can easily pass as a tobacco cigarette with slim white bodies and glowing amber tips. They even emit what look like puffs of white smoke.

Slideshow: Smoke screen?

Manufacturers have touted the products as a healthier alternative to smoking because no burning is involved, and there's no hazardous cocktail of cancer-causing chemicals.

Regulators said they already halted 50 shipments of electronic cigarettes at the border, but those actions have been challenged in federal court by manufacturers. The products are made primarily in China.

FDA officials declined to comment on whether they would take action against the two manufacturers whose products were tested. They also declined to identify the companies.

The agency did say it's "planning additional activities" to address safety issues with the products, which may include recalling products or issuing criminal sanctions.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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