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Up in Smoke: Cigars and Your Health

Most people realize that cigarettes can cause lung cancer and heart disease. But many people erroneously believe that cigars aren't harmful.

If you think cigars are a safe form of smoking, consider some of the consequences associated with their use:

  • According to the National Cancer Institute, cigar and cigarette smokers have similar levels of risk for oral, throat, and esophageal cancers. The risk for lung cancer increases with more frequent cigar smoking and depth of inhalation.

  • Cigarettes generally contain less than 1 gram of tobacco each. Cigars vary in size and shape and can measure more than 7 inches in length. Large cigars typically contain 5 to 17 grams of tobacco. Cigar smokers may spend hours smoking a single large cigar that contains as much tobacco as a pack of cigarettes. Cigarettes generally take less than 10 minutes to smoke. Most cigarette smokers smoke every day and inhale. But many cigar smokers smoke only occasionally, and do not inhale.

More myths

Two other misconceptions people have about cigars are that they aren't addictive and that they can't be too harmful because they don't carry any health warnings on the package.

Cigars contain the same addictive and toxic chemicals found in cigarettes, but the concentrations are higher. The fermentation of tobacco for cigars produces high concentrations of carcinogenic compounds, and the nonporous cigar wrapper causes incomplete burning of the tobacco. Both of these increase the concentrations of toxins and irritants. 

Nicotine in tobacco causes addiction or dependence. A single cigar can contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. Cigar smokers absorb nicotine in the lungs, if they inhale, and through smoke in contact with the lining of the mouth.

Secondhand smoke

Because cigar smokers don't fully inhale the smoke emitted from a lighted cigar, they deposit more secondhand smoke in the air around them. During the fermentation process to make cigars, high concentrations of cancer-causing compounds are produced. When cigars are smoked, these compounds are released in higher concentrations than in cigarette smoke.

To protect yourself from secondhand smoke, maintain a smoke-free environment at home, and, if possible, leave areas where people are smoking.