As e-cigarettes have become more popular, the controversy around them has only grown as well. Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared that e-cigarettes were causing a “public health crisis” amoung young Americans, for example—and a recent study suggested that e-cigarettes could actually decrease a smoker’s chances of quitting. At the same time, research has indicated that e-cigarette users inhale fewer cancer-causing carcinogens than cigarette smokers, indicating that vaping may be a safer option.
That somewhat contradictory body of research got a little, well, cloudier this week.
Vaping with nicotine-based liquid could potentially be just as harmful to your health (or even worse) than traditional tobacco cigarettes, according to a new University of Connecticut study published in the journal ACS Sensors. On the other hand, a separate study from the Penn State College of Medicine found that people who use e-cigarettes are actually less dependent on the product than traditional smokers are to cigarettes.
In the University of Connecticut study, researchers used a specialized device to test how inhaling both nicotine-based liquid and vapor from non-nicotine e-cigarettes could damage DNA at the cellular level. (Damaged cellular DNA is a hallmark precursor of cancer.)
One finding was clear: “From the results of our study, we can conclude that e-cigarettes have as much potential to cause DNA damage as unfiltered regular cigarettes,” said Karteek Kadimisetty, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral fellow. More specifically: About 20 puffs from an e-cigarette equated roughly to an unfiltered cigarette, according to the study.
Still: Even though e-cigarettes have been shown to cause DNA damage, they are still considered less addictive than traditional cigarettes, according to the Penn State study. E-cigarette smokers said they felt less dependent on e-cigarettes than traditional cigarette smokers did on regular old cigarettes, according to the survey of 32,000 adults. Furthermore, cigarette smokers said they struggled with cravings more often than e-cigarette users did.
But is the trade-off worth it? Maybe the best answer is simply to quit puffing on the stuff altogether (whether it’s vapes or tobacco cigarettes), which has been shown to reduce depression and even improve your career.