Question: I’ve heard that cigars are better than cigarettes because you don’t inhale. Is this true? – Jonathan S. from Sunnyvale, California
Answer: There’s plenty of information out there about the dangers of cigarettes, but it’s much rarer to read about the dangers of cigars. Smoking cessation advocates have worked to get rid of the “cool factor” of cigarettes, so we see fewer and fewer cigarettes in Hollywood movies. However, the same has not happened with cigars. Movie stars, politicians, and figures of authority continue to sport cigars.
So it’s not surprising that many people have gotten the idea that cigars are better than cigarettes. You will even find sites that actually advocate the health benefits of smoking a cigar. The myth that cigars can be enjoyed safely because one does not inhale the smoke is still perpetuated.
Here are the facts about cigar smoke:
Cigar smoke, along with cigarette smoke, contains toxic and cancer-causing chemicals that are harmful to smokers and everyone in the near vicinity. There is no safe use of a tobacco product and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. The more you smoke, the more certain your risk of disease. Cigar smoking causes oral cavity cancers (think lip, tongue, mouth, and throat, larynx, esophagus, and lung). All cigar smokers directly expose these body parts to tobacco smoke and its toxic and cancer-causing chemicals.
Are cigars any different from cigarettes? The answer is that cigars are just bigger and worse. Cigars are larger and contain more tobacco, and are themselves wrapped in a tobacco product. Whereas cigarettes have about one gram of tobacco in them, cigars can contain up to 20 grams of tobacco. Cigarettes take 10 minutes to smoke while cigars take hours to smoke. The tobacco in cigars is also fermented.
Like cigarette smoke, cigar smoke contains toxic and cancer-causing chemicals that are harmful to both smokers and nonsmokers and possibly even more so. A higher level of cancer-causing substances due to the fermentation process for cigar tobacco creates high concentrations of cancer-causing nitrosamines. These compounds are released when a cigar is smoked. There also is more tar for every gram of tobacco smoked in a cigar. Cigar wrappers are less porous than cigarette wrappers; hence the nonporous cigar wrapper makes the burning of cigar tobacco less complete than the burning of cigarette tobacco. This, in turn, leads to higher concentrations of toxins in the cigar smoke than cigarette smoke. Furthermore, the larger size of most cigars and longer smoking time result in a more concentrated exposure to many of these toxic substances (also add carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, ammonia, cadmium, and other wonderful stuff to the list).
Cigar smoke can be a major source of indoor air pollution and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. If you smoke a cigar in front of others, you are irreparably harming them.
Are cigars addictive? Even if the smoke is not inhaled, high levels of nicotine (the chemical that causes the actual addiction) can still be absorbed into the body by inhalation into the lungs and by absorption through the lining of the oral cavity. A single cigar can likely provide as much nicotine as smoking a pack of cigarettes.
While this is the most superficial reason not to smoke cigars, it’s perhaps the most effective way of helping someone in the cessation of smoking cigars: The tar from smoking a cigar will end up in nooks and crannies in and around your teeth that can’t and will never be completely removed, whether by a skilled hygienist or by whitening your teeth. This black stain will remain forever on portions of your teeth.
Mark Burhenne DDS