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. Studies show that men who smoke five or more cigars a day have two times the risk for lung cancer than nonsmokers. The lung cancer risk from moderately inhaling smoke from five cigars a day is about the same as smoking up to one pack of cigarettes a day.

  • Cigar smokers have higher death rates from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than nonsmokers. Combining cigar smoking with heavy drinking increases this risk.

  • 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. Cigarettes average about 8.4 mg of nicotine each. Many cigars contain between 100 and 200 mg, but may have as much as 444 mg of nicotine. Cigar smokers absorb nicotine in the lungs, if they inhale, and through smoke in contact with the lining of the mouth.

Less regulation

Cigars have fewer federal regulations than cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Cigar labels do carry one of these following five warnings, on a rotating basis:

  • Cigar smoking can cause cancers of the mouth and throat, even if you don’t inhale.

  • Cigar smoking can cause lung cancer and heart disease.

  • Tobacco use increases the risk for infertility, stillbirth and low birth weight babies.

  • Cigars aren’t a safe alternative to cigarettes.

  • Tobacco smoke increases the risk for lung cancer and heart disease, even in nonsmokers.

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. The larger amount of tobacco and longer smoking time of cigars increases exposure to nonsmokers of more than 4,000 chemicals, of which 23 are poisons and 43 can cause cancer. Carbon-monoxide emissions from a cigar are 30 times higher than those from a cigarette, and the noxious particle emissions from one cigar exceed those of three cigarettes.

To protect yourself from secondhand smoke, maintain a smoke-free environment at home.


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