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For ages now, smokers have been trying to find a loophole for their smoking habits. Trying to find a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes has led to a rise in the use of vapes, hookah pipes, and now, a synonymously “luxury” item, cigars. With various types available on the market, how do they compare to cigarettes, and could they be a healthier, safer alternative?

Health Dangers Of Cigars

The primary difference between cigars and cigarettes is their wrapping. Cigars are wrapped in a substance that contains more tobacco, while cigarettes are wrapped in paper/a substance without tobacco.

Cigar smoke isn’t designed to be inhaled. As such, many believe that this makes cigars a safer alternative to cigarettes. However, the reality is that cigars are more dangerous than classic cigarettes.

Higher Levels of Carcinogens

The fermentation process for cigar tobacco produces high concentrations of cancer-causing nitrosamines. Known as tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), these are some of the most dangerous carcinogens, having the ability to form bulky adducts with DNA and hemoglobin.

In fact, there is a growing concern that links TSNAs to cervical cancer. Research shows that women who smoke cigars have large quantities of these carcinogens in their cervical mucus. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reports that TSNAs are also linked to the development of lung cancer, specifically adenocarcinoma, the most common cancer.

Adenocarcinoma 

According to the American Cancer Society, adenocarcinoma accounts for:

  • 96% of breast cancers
  • Nearly 100% of prostate cancers
  • Around 95% of pancreatic cancers
  • Around 96% of colorectal cancers
  • 40% of non-small cell lung cancers

This is a cancer that forms within the glandular tissues. The glandular tissues are responsible for lining certain internal organs and allowing for the manufacturing and release of several bodily substances. These substances include mucus (in mucus-secreting gland cells) and digestive juices.

Increased Risk for Other Cancers

According to the National Cancer Institute, cigar smoke has high carcinogenic properties and contains much higher concentrations of certain carcinogens compared to cigarettes, which puts you at risk for various cancers. Research has shown that those who smoke cigars are 4–10 times more likely to die from oral, laryngeal, or esophageal cancers, compared to non-smokers. 

Higher Nicotine and Tobacco Content

Smoking a single full-size cigar has been shown to deliver as much tobacco as an entire pack of cigarettes. This shows that cigars cannot act as a smoker’s “loophole” for tobacco or nicotine dependence.

CIGARS

Photo by Roman Pohorecki

In fact, even if you don’t intentionally inhale while smoking, large amounts of nicotine can be absorbed through the lining of your mouth. High levels of nicotine in the body can be extremely dangerous, causing the following issues: 

  • Hardening of Arterial Walls: Known as atherosclerosis, the thickening or hardening of the arteries is caused by a buildup of fat, cholesterol, or other substances in the inner lining of an artery. This leads to a reduction or complete blockage of blood flow. If the arteries that are responsible for supplying the heart become narrow through this plaque buildup, it can cause chest pain, and shortness of breath, and can pose a health risk for the kidneys, intestines, and brain. This plaque doesn’t just stick to your arterial walls, but can also break off and enter into smaller blood vessels which lead to your heart or brain. 
  • Increased Blood Pressure: Although it takes about 20 minutes after smoking for your blood pressure and pulse to return to normal, the long-term effects on your blood pressure are quite detrimental. Every time you smoke, you activate your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which raises your blood pressure. Doing this over time damages your artery walls, putting you at high risk of heart conditions. 
  • Increased Heart Rate: The nicotine in cigars increases your heart rate, which leads to tachycardia, a condition that is encapsulated by an irregular heart rate of over 100 beats per minute. This increases your risk of heart failure, stroke, and sudden cardiac death. Also, since smoking places more carbon monoxide into your blood, there is less oxygen reaching your heart. This puts your heart under immense stress, leaving it extremely vulnerable.

The Misconception That Cigars Are Safer

Cigars are synonymous with celebrations and marking milestones. There is even the belief that since there is no inhalation taking place, they are relatively safe. However, these are more dangerous than ordinary cigarettes, even if you’re not directly inhaling the smoke.

Secondary smoking also takes place at a higher intensity, as cigars not only create more smoke than ordinary cigarettes, but the smoke has a higher tobacco concentration. So even if you’re not the one smoking, being in the presence of smokers is enough to harm your health. 

The health risks are even higher if you’re smoking a flavored cigar. This is because flavoring can cause severe damage, while also acting as a carcinogen.

In fact, the FDA has proposed a ban on flavored cigars, which could cost $836 Million in annual excise tax revenue. It is important to remember that whether it be a cigar, a vape, or a hookah pipe, the only safe form of smoking is not smoking at all. 

MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by JÉSHOOTS

References

  • Maldonado, G.T., Bono, R.S., Wall, C.S., Lester, R.C., Hoetger, C., Blankenship, M., Lipato, T., Guy, M.C., Eissenberg, T., Bickel, W.K. and El Hage, R., 2023. Acute effects of flavored Black and mild cigars among young adult cigarette smokers. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology.
  • Glasser, A.M., Nemeth, J.M., Quisenberry, A.J., Shoben, A.B., Trapl, E.S. and Klein, E.G., 2023. The Role of Cigarillo Flavor in the Co-Use of Cigarillos and Cannabis among Young Adults. Substance Use & Misuse, pp.1-11.
  • Ashley, D.L., Zhu, W., Watson, C.H., Bravo, R., Ngac, P.K., Valentin-Blasini, L., Pickworth, W.B., Kurti, A.N., Cunningham, C. and Blount, B.C., 2023. Mouth Level Intake of Nicotine from Three Brands of Little Filtered Cigars with Widely Differing Product Characteristics Among Adult Consumers. Chemical Research in Toxicology.
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Bongane Nxumalo

As a recent graduate of Rhodes University, Bongane is skilled in content production and editing for Print Media, Digital Media, and On-Air Content. With an interest in Current Affairs, Entertainment, and Politics, Bongane is able to provide a vast range of content that is relevant, informative, educational, and entertaining.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

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