Cigar Smoking Effects, Harms, and Cancer Risk
This fact sheets answers common questions, risks and health concerns for cigar smoking and cancer.
- Cigar smoke, like cigarette smoke, contains toxic and cancer-causing chemicals that are harmful to both smokers and nonsmokers.
- There is no safe tobacco product, and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke.
- The more you smoke, the greater your risk of disease.
- Cigar smoking causes oral cavity cancers (cancers of the lip, tongue, mouth, and throat) and cancers of the larynx (voice box), esophagus, and lung.
- All cigar and cigarette smokers, whether or not they inhale, directly expose their lips, mouth, tongue, throat, and larynx to tobacco smoke and its toxic and cancer-causing chemicals.
How are cigars different from cigarettes?
Cigarettes usually differ from cigars in size and in the type of tobacco used1–3. Moreover, in contrast with cigarette smoke, cigar smoke is often not inhaled.
The main features of these tobacco products are:
- Cigarettes: Cigarettes are uniform in size and contain less than 1 gram of tobacco each. U.S. cigarettes are made from different blends of tobaccos, which are never fermented, and they are wrapped with paper. Most U.S. cigarettes take less than 10 minutes to smoke.
- Cigars: Most cigars are composed primarily of a single type of tobacco (air-cured and fermented), and they have a tobacco wrapper. They can vary in size and shape and contain between 1 gram and 20 grams of tobacco. Three cigar sizes are sold in the United States:
- Large cigars can measure more than 7 inches in length, and they typically contain between 5 and 20 grams of tobacco. Some premium cigars contain the tobacco equivalent of an entire pack of cigarettes. Large cigars can take between 1 and 2 hours to smoke.
- Cigarillos are a type of smaller cigar. They are a little bigger than little cigars and cigarettes and contain about 3 grams of tobacco.
- Little cigars are the same size and shape as cigarettes, are often packaged like cigarettes (20 little cigars in a package), and contain about 1 gram of tobacco. Also, unlike large cigars, some little cigars have a filter, which makes it seem they are designed to be smoked like cigarettes (that is, for the smoke to be inhaled).
Are there harmful chemicals in cigar smoke?
Yes. Cigar smoke, like cigarette smoke, contains toxic and cancer-causing chemicals that are harmful to both smokers and nonsmokers. Cigar smoke is possibly more toxic than cigarette smoke3. Cigar smoke has:
- A higher level of cancer-causing substances: During the fermentation process for cigar tobacco, high concentrations of cancer-causing nitrosamines are produced. These compounds are released when a cigar is smoked. Nitrosamines are found at higher levels in cigar smoke than in cigarette smoke.
- More tar: For every gram of tobacco smoked, there is more cancer-causing tar in cigars than in cigarettes.
- A higher level of toxins: Cigar wrappers are less porous than cigarette wrappers. The nonporous cigar wrapper makes the burning of cigar tobacco less complete than the burning of cigarette tobacco. As a result, cigar smoke has higher concentrations of toxins than cigarette smoke.
Furthermore, the larger size of most cigars (more tobacco) and longer smoking time result in higher exposure to many toxic substances (including carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, ammonia, cadmium, and other substances).
Cigar smoke can be a major source of indoor air pollution1. There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. If you want to reduce the health risk to yourself and others, stop smoking.