It doesn't look as if it could hurt a fly, but Australian scientists are warning that the office printer could pose as much danger to the lungs as smoking a cigarette.

Boffins at Queensland University of Technology's International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health tested 62 machines as a part of their research.

They found that almost 30 per cent of the printers emit potentially dangerous levels of tiny toner-like material into the air that can infiltrate the lungs and cause as much damage as inhaled cigarette smoke.

'Ultra-fine particles are of most concern because they can penetrate deep into the lungs where they can pose a significant health threat,' the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Professor Lidia Morawska, as saying.

'These (printer) particles are tiny like cigarette smoke particles and, when deep inside the lung, they do the same amount of damage.

'The health effects from inhaling ultra-fine particles depend on particle composition, but the results can range from respiratory irritation to more severe illness such as cardiovascular problems or cancer.'

The results of the study are published in the American Chemical Society's Environmental Science and Technology journal.