What to Know About Cigar Smoking

Surprising facts on how cigars impact your health

As of Dec. 20, 2019, the new legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

It’s a common misconception that cigar smoking is less risky than cigarette smoking. This is not true. Cigars are not safer than cigarettes, but because they are used differently, the health hazards do differ somewhat.

cigar smoking health risks
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Cigar Smoking vs. Cigarette Smoking

There are a couple of key differences between smoking cigars and cigarettes:

  • Cigar smokers: Approximately 75% of cigar smokers don't inhale, and most don't smoke on a daily basis.
  • Cigarette smokers: Almost all cigarette smokers inhale, and most smoke 20, 30, or more cigarettes every day.

These differences in smoking habits explain why cigar smokers are generally exposed to less of the poisons and carcinogens present in cigars than cigarette smokers are to similar toxins in cigarettes.

It's also why there are fewer instances of cigar smoking-related disease and death than we typically see with cigarettes.

Key Facts About Cigar Smoking

Let's take a look at a few of the important facts about cigars and cigar smoking. Some of them might surprise you.

Contain More Tobacco

A single cigarette typically has less than a gram of tobacco, while a single cigar may contain as much as 5 to 17 grams of tobacco.

Addictive

Cigar smoke breaks down in saliva, allowing the smoker to easily absorb nicotine through the lining of the mouth in quantities sufficient to cause addiction, even if the smoke is not inhaled. And, the amount of nicotine in a single cigar is many times greater than what is found in a cigarette.

A typical cigarette contains one to two milligrams of nicotine, while the nicotine content of a cigar is 100 to 200 milligrams. Some cigars contain as much as 400 milligrams of nicotine.

Toxic

Secondhand smoke from cigars varies from that of cigarettes for a couple of reasons. First, the manufacturing process for cigars requires a fermentation period. During this time, high concentrations of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) are produced. TSNAs are some of the most carcinogenic compounds known to man.

Secondly, cigar wrappers are not as porous as cigarette wrappers, making the combustion of a cigar less complete. These two factors result in higher concentrations of some of the toxic chemicals in cigars than in cigarettes.

Cause Cancer and Other Diseases

Cigar smoking has been linked to several different cancers, most notably those of the oral cavity, which include lip, tongue, mouth, throat, and larynx. Cigar smokers who inhale are also at an increased risk for lung cancer, cancers of the pancreas and bladder, as well as heart and lung disease.

Bad for Oral Health

In a study published in the January 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association, it was discovered that cigar and pipe smokers are at an increased risk for early tooth loss, compared to that of their nonsmoking counterparts.

Cigar and pipe smokers are also at an increased risk for alveolar bone (the bone that holds the tooth in place) loss.

Linked to Erectile Dysfunction

Smokers are twice as likely to be impotent as nonsmokers due to the adverse effects smoking has on circulation, hormones, and the nervous system. Cigar smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, in particular, have been shown to be significant risk factors for erectile dysfunction.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

There hasn't been a lot of research done on the effectiveness of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) as a quit aid for cigar smokers. However, if you feel that you've become physically dependent on cigars, you might be addicted to nicotine and NRTs could potentially help.

Have a discussion with your doctor about quitting and work out a plan that suits you best.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, there is no such thing as a "safe" tobacco product. All forms of tobacco have risks associated with them, and cigars are no different. Steer clear of cigars, and avoid the secondhand smoke they produce.

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Article Sources
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  2. Claus ED, Moeller BC, Harbour D, et al. Use Behaviors, Dependence, and Nicotine Exposure Associated with Cigar Smoking. Tob Regul Sci. 2018;4(1):548-561. doi:10.18001/TRS.4.1.2

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