The Word On Cigars And Health Concerns

Random leaves could be tobacco leaves, but they're not...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:

  1. 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.)
  2. The tobacco used in cigars is less chemically processed and more natural than the tobacco used in cigarettes.
  3. 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)

The Verdict
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… :)

My Sources

  1. National Cancer Institute: Questions and Answers About Cigar Smoking and Cancer
  2. American Lung Association: Cigar Smoking Fact Sheet
  3. American Cancer Society: Cigar Smoking: Growing Popularity Amoung Young Adults
  4. University of Southern California: Cigar Smoking Remains Serious Health Risk (via CigarLife)

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17 Comments

  1. flotsam said,

    May 20, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    Since it was long ago determined, correctly, that cigarettes are very bad for one’s health, it seemed like a logical extension to paint all tobacco as evil. Yet the actual NCI study consistently points out the health risks of cigars only applies to those who inhale. Very few cigar smokers inhale, even current or former cigarette smokers. Yet that point is always glossed over when some nanny wants to grouch about the evils of cigars.

    However, your point about chemicals does indeed show that you’re a crackpot. C’mon, man! It’s smoke in your lungs! That’s bad no matter what’s in it.

  2. Brian said,

    May 20, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    Good point, I am a big fan of crackpot theories! :) I think it’s fun to discuss them, especially when they off-the-wall enough to discuss on that Coast to Coast AM show. The one with all the aliens and conspiracy theories.

    Anyway, back to the subject at hand: My small amount of research didn’t yield anything proving that additives to cigarettes make them more dangerous, so I’m on your side with this one. It’s smoke. Sucking it down isn’t good for you.

    Though most smokers do not inhale, many smokers do not smoke in a well ventilated areas. (I make a point to.) So I think it’s mistake to think there’s no risk. But I’m convinced the risk is a lot lower than its built up to be.

  3. james said,

    June 1, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    I have read that flavored cigars, ala “black and milds”, cause cancer at a higher rate because of the checmils used to flavore the paper. I’m waiting for the safe vapor cigarettes, help me out tobacco company’s!

  4. Brian said,

    June 1, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    Hi james,

    Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me. I read a book a couple of years ago that called into question some of the “natural flavors” listed on food packaging.

    I saw that same article on the vapor cigarettes, and my thought is reaction was “looks like a great alternative for cigarette smokers.” I’m very skeptical that it will take any hold in the cigar community. We’re not just in it for a nicotine fix (heck, I don’t even care about that), we enjoy the art of the clip, the light, the burn, and the subtle flavors of the tobacco.

    I’ll tell you what I am waiting for: the vapor alcohol I read about, like 5 years ago. Evidently there are/were places you could go to literally inhale your drinks. No calories, no upset stomach, all buzz. Awesome. :)

  5. bk lady said,

    July 16, 2007 at 12:05 am

    Thanks for this info. My teenager smokes “blunts.” In other words he replaces the tobacco filler with another smokable plant, using the wrapper of a cigar as one would use cigarette papers. I’ve been telling him that inhaling cigars is harmful. Now I’ve got sources to back me up. I hope one day he will smoke a good cigar just for the pleasure of smoking a good cigar.

  6. Brian said,

    July 16, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Hi bk lady,

    If my blog helps you in your quest, I will consider this blog to have been a smashing success. Even as you left this comment, I was enjoying a cigar with a friend who smokes cigarettes. He hadn’t had a cigarette in a while, and he was amazed by how well the cigar worked in it’s place, even though you don’t inhale them. He’s giving consideration to transitioning from cigarettes to cigars, which is a positive step forward in terms of health!

    I’d love it if I could get everyone to quit smoking cigarettes… and start smoking cigars! :)

  7. Leo said,

    March 26, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    FYI I read your May16, 2007 blog. It was great! I too am interested in the treatment of tobacco in cigars. This may help you. It is a scientific study of chemicals and cigar smoke.

    http://www.advisorybodies.doh.gov.uk/scoth/pdfs/cigarcigarettepah.pdf

  8. Brian said,

    March 29, 2008 at 9:19 am

    Thanks for the link, Leo, I’ll check that out.

  9. Kathy said,

    February 3, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    You’re nuts to think smoking cigars is not harmful to your health. The nicotine alone – even if you don’t inhale it gets absorbed slowly through the blood vessels that line the inside of your mouth – causes heart disease. Then there’s the mouth, throat and esophogeal cancer. And the possibliity for nose cancer from that toxic smoke swirling around your face. The problem is nicotine is a drug and its addictive and anyone who battles addiction knows how well denial works. Oh wait a minute not it doesn’t.

  10. Brian said,

    February 5, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Kathy, I don’t think anybody is going to seriously argue that any form of tobacco use is good for you. However, it’s clear to me that you neither understand cigars nor cigar smokers when you speak of addiction. Cigars and cigarettes are NOT the same thing, so what you may know about cigarettes does NOT translate to cigars. What’s also clear to me is that you hate tobacco in all form and probably those that choose to enjoy it and would probably have our pastime made illegal. Your snarky remarks add nothing to the discussion, but thanks for playing.

  11. Peter said,

    April 6, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Great discussion, very funny. I found your site while trying to determine the health risks for an occasional cigar smoker (one a week, one every couple of weeks, etc. – your point about 5 a day is bang on). Cigar smoking is a funny thing though. My father used to smoke cigars, and that was back in the day when it was all done indoors. Frankly, I was such a pain in the ass in my early 20′s about the smoke, my parents quit (mom – cigarettes). Now, 30 years later, as I reach into the humidor my dad had for decades BEFORE i was born, I’m filled with a certain peace, a connection to my dad that I wished I had expressed to him years ago. And when I light up my cigar and enjoy the smoke and the reflection, being pretty well the only time I stand or sit in one spot for any length of time, i marvel at the fact that people CAN change, even ol’ Kathy might, from self-righteous to appreciative of life’s little pleasures.

  12. K$ said,

    September 24, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Kathy is a douche who, as Peter stated, doesn’t know how to appreciate life’s little pleasures. I am sure that there is something that she does in her weekly life that could cause her harm…I will continue to enjoy my occassional (see: 3-4 times per week) cigar and the GOOD it does for my mental health seriously outweighs what it COULD (or could not) be doing to my physical health.

    • anon said,

      December 12, 2012 at 7:46 pm

      “Kathy is a douche..” Wow.

  13. Bill said,

    October 14, 2010 at 3:05 am

    Wow, this blog really helped me out. I am an occasional cigar smoker and i wanted to get the true facts on the effects of cigar smoking. I knew it couldn’t be addicting as cigarettes since cigars are not meant to be smoked daily. Every point you made helped a lot more than the health sites that deem it just as bad as cigarettes. Your sources were clear and your information seems solid. From now on, I’ll have a clear conscious while smoking cigars with friends to celebrate the things in life that we’re glad to have and the friendship we share together.

  14. college kid said,

    October 25, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    just getting into cigars and love em, but will never inhale or touch a cigarette

    but mostly commenting in reference to bk lady. does someone want to tell her than when her son “replaces the tobacco filler with another smokable plant, using the wrapper of a cigar as one would use cigarette papers”, hes rolling a joint? as in he’s replacing the tobacco with weed? which you need to inhale when smoking for the thc to be absorbed into your lungs and is a completely different discussion entirely….

  15. Clay said,

    July 4, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    I think that cigar smoking is less risky, mainly because most cigar smokers use cigars as a “top of the day” or “top of the week” relief break. In other words, they usually keep it down to one a day or one a week. It’s hard to get cancer when smoking at that rate. What most don’t realize is that cigars are like alcohol. Drink 6 or 7 drinks a week and the chances of cirrhosis are almost zero, but drink 40 drinks a week and within twenty years you’re gonna have some serious problems. Same with cigars.
    It makes me laugh sometimes when people get all up in arms about drinking, smoking, ect. I don’t hear anyone going on and on about a mountain climbing ban, or a bungee jumping ban. It’s basically the same thing. Climb one mountain a year and you’ll probably be safe. However, make mountain climbing your life and you’ll be dead before the age of 40.
    Smoking and drinking is a problem with people ‘cause there isn’t a benefit as opposed to mountain climbing which strengthens your body. Hell, maybe there’s a planet out there where a healthy body is looked down upon. Maybe they have an anti-mountain climbing slogan and encourage their young people to light up.

  16. yenta2xD5 said,

    December 18, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Christopher Reeve’s wife and Andy Kaufman (the comedian), just to name two, died of lung cancer and never smoked a cigarette in their lives. Mark Twain, Winston Churchill and George Burns were heavy cigar smokers who lived well into their 80′s and beyond. And they didn’t die of heart disease or cancer. That doesn’t mean that you ought to smoke or that not smoking will extend your life. It is very difficult to get out of this world alive.


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