We all know the rap on cigarettes: they’re addictive, they kill you and they stink. There’s no question that cigars smell bad, but do they cause addiction and death? Researchers haven’t amassed a lot of data on those issues. After all, Americans consume only 4.6 billion cigars each year, compared with 470 billion cigarettes. Since cigar packages say nothing about health hazards, and cigar smokers don’t usually inhale, the dangers may seem negligible. The truth is, stogies kill! “We can’t say exactly how many deaths are attributable to cigars,” says Michael Erickson, head of the smoking-and-health office at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “But tobacco smoke is tobacco smoke. There’s no safe level of exposure to a carcinogen.”
Because cigarette smoke is slightly acidic, the nicotine it carries can’t enter the bloodstream directly through the tissue that lines the mouth. You have to inhale to get the effects. Cigars are not only larger (a big one contains more tobacco than a pack of cigarettes) but richer in noxious combustion products. And becuse cigar smoke is so alkaline, many of its constituents enter the blood stream through the mouth. “inhaled cigarette smoke produces a faster kick” says Dietrich Hoffman, a tobacco chemist with the American Health Foundation, ‘but cigar smokers end up just as dependent on nicotine.”
That’s not to say they encounter all the same health hazards. Cigarette smokers are 20 times more likely than nonsmokers to develop lung cancer, and four times more likely to suffer from coronary artery disease. Even the most dedicated cigar smokers experience only a threefold increase in lung cancer risk (mainly from living around their own fumes) and a doubling of stroke and heart-attack risk. Cancers of the mouth, larynx and esophagus are all associated with cigar smoking and those risks increase if you drink alcohol while you puff. Researchers have also identified pipe and cigar smoking as risk factors for pancreatic cancer, which is almost always fatal. Check out Nicotine pouches
Unfortunately, recovering cigarette smokers aren’t the only ones taking up stogies. Millions of teenagers are toying with them and as every tobacco executive knows, hooking kids is the key to healthy sales. But cigar makers may soon face more resistance. NCI scientists are putting the final touches on a comprehensive report on the health effects of cigars, and health advocates are demanding that the government start regulating them the way it does cigarettes. Stogies will no doubt soon carry a surgeon general’s warning. In the meantime, choose your poison carefully.