You might want to think twice before you light up that celebratory cigar.

Contrary to what you might think, cigars are addictive, even if you don’t inhale the smoke. And that could be frightening news for the 5.2 percent of U.S. adults who smoke cigars.

They may look and smell different, and to many people, they even taste different.

But when it comes to debating the health consequences of cigars versus cigarettes, neither wins.

Here are some of the more noticeable differences between the two:

  • Amount of tobacco. The National Cancer Center at the National Institutes of Health says a typical cigarette contains about 1 gram of tobacco. But a large cigar can contain anywhere from 5 to 20 grams of tobacco.
  • Amount of nicotine. One large cigar can have just as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Nicotine is the highly addictive chemical contained in tobacco.
  • Size of cigars versus cigarettes. Most cigarettes are about the same size, though their nicotine content can vary by brand. Cigars, on the other hand, vary in size from little cigars, cigarillos, blunts, or cheroots to large cigars that can measure more than 7 inches in length, giving them the potential to contain much more nicotine and to emit much more secondhand smoke.
  • The great inhaling debate. When it comes to inhaling, most cigar smokers don’t partake, whereas, all cigarette smokers inhale. So, what’s behind this interesting bit of information? One theory is that the smoke from cigars irritates the breathing passages, as well as your nose and throat. But whether you breathe in or not, the fact remains that the toxins in cigars come in direct contact with your lips, mouth, and tongue. Plus, your throat and larynx are also exposed to the smoke. “Even though cigar smoke is not inhaled, the nicotine in cigars, which is absorbed via both the lining of the mouth and through the lungs, triggers a cascade of addiction in the brain,” explains Dr. Nadine Cohen, MD, FAAP, FACP, an Internist and Adolescent Medicine Specialist at CareMount Medical.

While kids and teens are generally linked to cigarette smoking, you might be surprised to discover the number of kids who are smoking cigars.

According to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 27.1 percent of high school students (4.04 million) reported use of any tobacco product. Of those who reported use, 7.6 percent checked cigar smoking as their preference.

Cigars that are marketed to teens and kids have added flavors to increase the appeal. In fact, in 2017, the American Lung Association reports about 49.3 percent of youth smoking cigars used flavored cigars.

Kids exposed to cigar smoke are at an increased risk of developing childhood asthma, ear infections, and upper and lower respiratory infections, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Plus, a cigar typically burns longer than a cigarette, which increases the amount of secondhand smoke.

Cigars contain large amounts of nicotine, but they also contain several other harmful chemicals.

The more concerning chemicals are cancer-causing nitrosamines, which are produced during the fermentation process for cigar tobacco, according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Other concerning chemicals in cigars include:

  • nitrogen oxides
  • ammonia
  • carbon monoxide
  • hydrocarbons
  • cadmium
  • tar

Cohen says that the tar content in cigars is higher than cigarettes. Tar can cause cancers of the:

  • mouth
  • throat
  • lungs

A systematic review published in the journal BMC Public Health looked at 22 different studies.

The review found that primary cigar smoking was associated with:

But it’s not just the risk of developing cancer that’s so concerning.

According to the American Lung Association, cigar smokers, like cigarette smokers, also have 4 to 10 times the risk of dying from oral, esophageal, or laryngeal cancer in comparison to nonsmokers.

If you regularly smoke cigars, your dentist may give you a lecture.

That’s because cigar smoking is linked to oral disease, dental disease, and tooth loss. Not to mention, there’s the damage it does to your enamel, which makes your teeth look stained, and the bad breath that smoking causes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the cigar tobacco can also increase the risk for:

  • infertility
  • stillbirth
  • low birth weight

What’s more, the risks associated with cigar smoking extend beyond the smoker. Anyone around a cigar smoker is exposed to secondhand smoke.

The Mayo Clinic reports that exposure to secondhand smoke can contribute to the risk of developing lung cancer and heart disease.

You’re also at a greater risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

There’s a lot of misinformation about cigars. It’s important to talk with your healthcare provider or get information from other reputable sources. If not, you may be causing harm to your health.

Here are some of the more common myths about cigars:

myths about cigars
  • Cigars are not addictive. Yes, they are.
  • Cigars are better for you than cigarettes. No, they’re not.
  • Cigars have less tobacco than cigarettes. Some large cigars can have just as much tobacco as AN ENTIRE pack of cigarettes.
  • Since you puff on a cigar, rather than inhale, there’s no way of getting cancer. Cigar smokers are at INCREASED risk for getting cancer.
  • Smoking cigars is a sign of wealth. No way.
  • Small cigars are safer because they contain less nicotine. No amount of nicotine OR CANCER-CAUSING CHEMICALS is safe.

The outlook for cigar smokers is not good, especially when considering the only safe level of cigar smoking is none at all.

Cohen points out that the longer you smoke cigars, the greater the risk to your health.

“Continued use and smoking of cigars exposes you to more and more carcinogenic and disease-causing toxins with each passing year,” she explains.

In other words, if you smoke, the sooner you quit, the better.

Quitting smoking can help reduce your chance of developing health conditions associated with smoking such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and chronic lung disease.

Cigars are just as addictive as cigarettes. There’s no safe level of nicotine. If you smoke cigars, quitting is important.

When you quit smoking cigars, it helps to improve your health and to lower your risk for cancer, heart disease, COPD, and many other health-related issues associated with smoking cigars.

Talk with your healthcare provider. They can help connect you with information about and support programs for nicotine addiction and quitting smoking.

For additional information and resources on quitting smoking, if you smoke, refer to this fact sheet from the American Cancer Society.