Today, more than at any point in human history, an individual's health can depend on making informed choices. Never have we had such an abundance of health information at our fingertips.
The problem, of course, is knowing whom we should believe.
Depending on which study you're reading, alcohol either has no redeeming value or, used in moderation, has benefits for the heart. So-called "veggie burgers" are all the rage today, but some argue that the chemicals found in many of them are far worse for you than a quarter-pound of ground beef.
Is Diet Coke healthier than Classic Coke? Depends on who you ask. Does coffee protect against Alzheimer's, or is it merely an addictive stimulant?
And of course, the age-old "Which came first?" question is far less confusing than whether it's OK to eat a half-dozen eggs per week.
But there's near-universal agreement that tobacco kills people. The types of cancer it causes are too numerous to list, and smokers are at a higher risk of heart attack, stroke and emphysema. A 2017 study in the Netherlands found that people who smoke more than 20 cigarettes per day have a life expectancy that is 13 years shorter than non-smokers.
But what about vaping?
Given that tobacco smoke contains 4,000 chemicals, including arsenic, ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide, we don't doubt that the vapor produced by so-called "e-cigarettes" is safer. Smokers are addicted to nicotine — not carbon monoxide or tar — so there's a lot to like about a product that delivers nicotine without the other poisons found in cigarette smoke.
If we had to choose between sharing a car with either a smoker or a vaper, we'd choose the vaper every time.
But all the news about vaping isn't good.
When e-cigarettes first came out, the biggest hazard associated with them was the possibility of being burned when their lithium batteries exploded in your pocket. That problem seems to have been largely fixed, but now a new, far more disturbing trend is developing.
A recent CNN survey of state health departments found 120 cases of lung disease, possibly linked to vaping, scattered across 15 states. Minnesota is investigating four cases, all of them involving teens who used e-cigarettes.
These aren't mild illnesses that go away overnight. In many cases, victims have been hospitalized for weeks, including long stays in intensive care units.
The investigation into the cause of these illnesses will be neither easy nor quick. Some of the victims vaped marijuana oils or other substances, rather than the nicotine-containing "juice" that e-cigarettes were designed for. It's also highly likely that the number of cases is under-reported right now, given the fact that many underage teens won't want to admit their vaping habits to their parents or a doctor.
And the investigation won't end when researchers find out what is causing these acute, fast-onset illnesses. It could be years before we fully understand the long-term risks of e-cigarettes, much as it took decades to fully grasp the risks of smoking.
For now, we can conclude that while vaping is safer than smoking, it clearly isn't entirely safe. While e-cigarettes can be a good tool for those trying to reduce or eliminate a life-wrecking habit, their recreational use comes with significant risks.
Kids need this information. They need to hear it from their parents, their teachers, their coaches and their peers.
Unfortunately, for millions of teens it's already too late. Vaping has introduced them to an addiction that they will likely battle for years or even a lifetime. After years of winning the battle against teen smoking, e-cigarettes have the trend line going in the wrong direction once again.
One could also argue that e-cigarettes have made nicotine the most widely used "gateway drug" in America. When kids get bored with nicotine, many are vaping other products of unknown origins, and in doing so they take a big gamble.
While it's tough to know who to believe regarding your health, one adage still holds true: What you don't know can hurt you — and when it comes to vaping, there's still an awful lot we don't know.