Everyone knows by now that cigarettes are bad. The pros and cons of e-cigarette use, however, are still up for debate.
Some studies have suggested that e-cigarettes are a better alternative to cigarettes, while other studies have indicated that they’re just as harmful to your health. And while some studies have found that vaping isn’t an effective way for smokers to quit, others have found just the opposite.
A recent study done at the Medical University of South Carolina suggests the latter. When cigarette smokers were given e-cigarettes without any specific instructions or requirements for use, they were likely to make the switch from cigs to e-cigs, and many of the people who participated in the study even ended up buying their own vapes afterward.
The study followed 68 smokers—46 who were randomly assigned e-cigarettes and 22 that served as a control group—for four months. Compared to people who stuck to regular old cigarettes, e-cig users not only smoked less, but were also more likely to try to quit. And it was no small difference—e-cigarette users smoked 37% fewer cigarettes than nonvapers, which suggests that the e-cigs could be a helpful tool for people looking to quit.
But even if you don’t quit altogether, just making the switch to vaping is better than smoking traditional cigarettes, according to lead study author Matthew Carpenter, a tobacco control and addiction expert at the university’s cancer center.
“Combustible cigarettes are the most harmful form of nicotine delivery,” he says, according to a university press release. “Alternative delivery of nicotine, through e-cigarettes, could significantly reduce harm and the risks of cancer and other diseases to smokers.”
E-cigarette users also rated them as similar to their normal cigarettes, which suggests that vape products could promote making the switch. The idea here is that anything’s better than those pesky cigarettes when it comes to your health—but that’s not to say that nonsmokers should start vaping just because it’s not as bad as smoking, Carpenter warns.
“It is important to protect nonsmokers, particularly adolescents and young adults, from starting any nicotine-containing product,” he says. “This is something we need to really guard against.” Whether or not e-cigs really are better than old-school, combustible cigarettes, the best option will always be not smoking, period.