As much as we keep trying to categorize e-cigarettes as “healthy” or “unhealthy,” the constant stream of back-and-forth research on the subject makes that difficult. Some studies have shown that vapes can negatively affect heart health and put you at risk for some uniquely nasty side effects, while others indicate that vapers inhale far fewer cancer-causing carinogens than cigarette smokers.
Finally, a comprehensive report of more than 800 peer-reviewed scientific studies has emerged that helps to clear up a lot—but not all—of those issues.
Evidence shows that e-cigarettes are likely to be an overall healthier alternative to regular cigarettes because they contain fewer toxic substances and the risk of dependence is lower, according to a congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
But there’s a catch.
The findings also showed that while vaping can help adults quit puffing on traditional cigarettes, younger e-cigarette users (like those in high school or college) are likely to pick up a smoking habit in the long run. This means that e-cigarettes could provide a public health benefit in the short term (thanks to all of the adults who are dropping cigarettes), but have potentially negative ramifications later on down the line (thanks to those kids who will eventually smoke conventional cigarettes).
“E-cigarettes cannot be simply categorized as either beneficial or harmful,” says David Eaton, chair of the committee that wrote the report. “In some circumstances, such as their use by nonsmoking adolescents and young adults, their adverse effects clearly warrant concern. In other cases, such as when adult smokers use them to quit smoking, they offer an opportunity to reduce smoking-related illness.”