In the last decade, with advancements in social media and telecommunication, the world has seen the rise and fall of countless trends and fashions, most disappearing just as precipitously as they came. But one fad that is showing no signs of letting up is the the E-cig craze. For those on the “anti” side of the tobacco debate, this represents a huge loss. Smoking has become cool again, they claim. And teenagers especially seem prone to the vape temptation, finding surprisingly few barriers to acquiring vape equipment online. But those in favor of vaporizers as an alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes point out that the health risk is significantly lower, and that many long-time smokers were finally able to kick the habit by transitioning to the e-cigarette. And so we’re left to ask ourselves—is vaping healthier than smoking? The question is a little more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.” Because vaping is still a relatively new practice, its long-term effects may take several more years to manifest. Nonetheless, health centers around the world have been racing to study the impact vaping may have on our overall health.

Less Toxins, But Not Toxin Free

Those in favor of vaping will likely be quick to cite a recent study conducted in England which claims vaping to be “95% healthier than traditional cigarettes.” So, case closed, right? Not exactly. E-cigarettes don’t burn the liquid or “juice” that carries the nicotine, which means that fewer carcinogens are being inhaled by users, not to mention virtually none of the tar, oxidant gases, and carbon monoxide of traditional cigarettes. Still, the CDC reports that the few toxins that are emitted from e-cig cartridges may be cancer-causing.

Nicotine Is As Nicotine Does

Toxins aside, nicotine remains a highly addictive substance which doctors everywhere agree is detrimental to one’s overall health. In a 2014 report, the Surgeon General dedicated an entire chapter on the ill effects of nicotine in his report, The Health Consequences of Smoking. In it, he describes how regular nicotine consumption can lead to serious health issues including weakened immune functionality, cardiovascular diseases, and damage to the reproductive system. In other words—nicotine can be bad news. In this respect, traditional cigarettes and vape devices are just about on par, with one exception—delivery. With cigarettes, you can tell right away of what you’re smoking is on the high- or low-end of the nicotine scale, as it typically generates a harsher smoke that can be difficult for the novice smoker to handle. The vape experience, however, is much different, and it can be very hard to detect how much nicotine you’re actually consuming. Most e-cig cartridges—like cigarette boxes—will clearly label how much nicotine is in each unit, but because every smoker is different, it doesn’t break down the numbers based on each puff or smoke session, leading some vapers to take in huge quantities of nicotine without even realizing it.

Widespread Accessibility

With online shopping taking the world by storm, teens now have access to vape devices at their fingertips. Websites that sell any nicotine delivery system are required to implement some sort of age-verification system, but the generation of tech-savvy teens find little difficulty in getting past them to place their order. Another distinguishing feature of vaporizers is that they’re incredibly discreet. Unlike cigarette smoke, which can linger for days or weeks, or permanently settle in some materials, vaping is almost undetectable. The vapor is exhaled the same way as cigarette smoke, and even billows out if you take a big enough draw, resembling a hit from a normal cigarette. But the vapor will quickly dissipate and, unless fragranced, leaves an almost undetectable scent. This stealth factor makes it incredibly difficult to enforce laws against underage usage, and many devices even come disguised as flash-drives, USB’s or other innocuous electronics. And so, while it may be technically healthier than cigarettes, many experts worry that because of things like ease-of-access, unregulated usage, and the appeal it has among young people, this “healthy” alternative may pose just as big a threat on the population as normal tobacco products.

Like I said before, there’s no clear-cut answer. There is still a lot of research to be done, and even among the investigations that have been conducted already, the conclusions are nuanced and often contradictory. Based on the information available, it seems safe to say that on an individual basis, vaping will do less damage than smoking. But on a global scale, because of how fast it is spreading and how easy it is to obtain, vaping may pose at least as big a threat as traditional smoking.