Is smoking cigars more or less harmful than puffing on cigarettes?

It isn't uncommon to hear the misplaced notion that smoking cigars is less harmful than smoking cigarettes. This idea seems to originate from cigar smokers not inhaling the smoke, but sadly for them, it is no more than an urban myth.

In fact, cigars expose the smoker to a number of different health risks, including cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, and larynx, as well as to heart and lung disease and oral problems.

The difference between cigars and cigarettes

Of course, both cigarettes and cigars contain tobacco, but the type of tobacco is quite different. Cigarettes are a blend of unfermented tobacco wrapped in a tobacco-free product such as paper. Cigars are generally made from a single type of fermented and air-cured tobacco, which is rolled and wrapped in tobacco leaves. As a result, many cigars contain 100% tobacco.

This additional tobacco means cigars take much longer to smoke. Cigarettes generally contain around 1 gram of tobacco, while thicker cigars can contain as much as 20 grams of tobacco and can take anything up to two hours to smoke. Cigars also contain more tar per gram of tobacco than cigarettes, too.

To put this in context, one cigar can contain the same amount of tobacco as 20 cigarettes, although if you smoke smaller cigars, you would probably need to smoke five to consume the same amount. The fermentation process of cigars is responsible for the development of high levels of nitrosamines too, which are renowned for causing cancer.

However, it would be incorrect to say where cigars or cigarettes are worse than the other. Indeed, there are more similarities between them than there are differences, and both are potentially very damaging to our health.

Figures released this autumn by Public Health England show that the number of smokers in England has dropped to the lowest level, with 16.9% (7.2 million) of adults lighting up. Around 500,000 people stopped smoking last year, and there are now twice as many (14.6 million) former smokers in the country as current smokers.

If you're a smoker, giving up is the single most beneficial thing you can do for your health. Quitting smoking can massively reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke, type 2 diabetes, and several types of cancer. You'll also notice you can breathe easier, while your senses of smell and taste will both improve, and you'll no longer expose your friends and family to the dangers of passive smoking.


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