I don’t think there’s anybody left who doesn’t know that any use of tobacco, whether it be smoked, chewed, or rolled around in, may cause cancer. That’s no longer a mystery at this point, no matter what the soccer-mom juries decide in the next people v. tobacco class action lawsuit.
What is still a mystery, at least to me, is how dangerous cigars actually are, especially in comparison to cigarettes. Nearly all the bad, scary stuff you hear about tobacco assumes the tobacco in question comes in the form of a cigarette. It would seem to me that cigars must be less dangerous than cigarettes for three reasons:
- Cigar smokers typically don’t inhale the smoke. The ones that do are often also cigarette smokers and have a higher tolerance for inhaled smoke. (I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect inhaling cigars frequently might be the fast train to emphysema-land.)
- The tobacco used in cigars is less chemically processed and more natural than the tobacco used in cigarettes.
- Cigar smokers tend to smoke with less frequency than cigarette smokers.
If I left off here, I probably wouldn’t have said anything you haven’t heard before. And both of us would leave this blog with a nice warm fuzzy and go make that fuzzy a bit warmer by lighting up a good cigar. But since I’m not any sort of medical professional, you should know the above reasons are just a combination of my own crackpot theories, and the second hand information I have picked up in my years of stogie puffing.
Since I’m all about adding value, I decided to do a little leg work. So here, in no particular order are some tidbits I picked up from reputable sources online regarding the health risks of cigars:
Cigar Health Tidbits
- One cigar a week is unlikely to have serious health consequences. (4)
- In terms of health risks, puffing on a stogie but not inhaling is roughly the equivalent of smoking two cigarettes. Inhaling boosts the exposure to the equivalent of as many as three cigarettes. (4)
- Smoking one to two cigars per day doubles the risk for oral and esophageal cancers. Smoking three to four cigars daily can increase the risk of oral cancers to more than eight times. (1)
- “The health risks associated with occasional cigar smoking (less than daily) are not known.” (1)(3)
- Cigar smokers who have a history of cigarette smoking are more likely to inhale cigar smoke. (1)
- Cigarettes are generally contain less than 1 gram of tobacco each. Large cigars can contain between 5 and 17 grams of tobacco. Some premium cigars contain the tobacco equivalent of an entire pack of cigarettes. (1)(2)
- The lung cancer risk from moderately inhaling smoke from five cigars a day is comparable to the risk from smoking up to one pack of cigarettes a day. (1)
- “The measurements of the carbon monoxide (CO) concentration at a cigar party and a cigar banquet in a restaurant showed indoor CO levels comparable to those measured on a crowded California freeway.” (1)
- Cigar consumption declined by about 66 percent from 1973 through 1993, but has increased more than 50 percent since 1993. (1)
- “Studies show that men who smoke at least five cigars a day and report moderate inhalation, experience lung cancer deaths at about two-thirds the rate of men who smoke one pack of cigarettes a day.” (2)
- “Secondhand cigar smoke has much higher concentrations of toxins and carcinogens than do cigarettes.” (2)
- “The sharp rise in the popularity of in gourmet coffee and microbrewery beers has led to a large increase in cigar smoking particularly among young and middle-aged white men (ages 18 to 44) with higher than average incomes and education.” (3)
- The risk of death from lung cancer for cigar smokers that do not inhale is not as high as it is for cigarette smokers, but is still three times higher than the risk for nonsmokers. (3)
It looks like I was actually not too far off with the three impressions I mentioned earlier. The key to enjoying cigars and and minimizing your potential health risks seems to be not inhaling the smoke. Since very few cigar smokers do that, it’s my opinion that there’s more hype than health risk to cigar smoking. (Something tells me that the late centenarian George Burns would agree with me on this.)
The thing I find troubling is that some of the statistics give the odds for various health issues, without ever identifying how many cigars a day they’re basing their facts on. Based on repeated references to the impacts of five cigars a day, I’m thinking that five is assumed to be average. I just have to ask, who the heck has the time and the money to smoke five cigars a day? That’s the problem with statistics like these, they’re assembled by non-smokers.
And finally, I didn’t see any information on the comparison of the quality and purity of the tobacco between cigars and cigarettes. So my idea that the tobacco in a cigar is actually less damaging due to chemicals used in cigarette tobacco may just be a crackpot theory I made up while smoking a cigar. If you happen to come across information one way or the other on this, feel free to leave a comment and let me know!
OK, there’s a cigar waiting for me with my name on it…
- National Cancer Institute: Questions and Answers About Cigar Smoking and Cancer
- American Lung Association: Cigar Smoking Fact Sheet
- American Cancer Society: Cigar Smoking: Growing Popularity Amoung Young Adults
- University of Southern California: Cigar Smoking Remains Serious Health Risk (via CigarLife)