Is there a safe way to smoke cigarettes?
No. All cigarettes cause damage. Any tobacco smoking is dangerous. All tobacco is addictive.
Some people try to make their smoking habit safer by smoking fewer cigarettes, which most smokers find quite hard to do. Sadly, research has found that even smoking as few as 1 to 4 cigarettes a day can lead to serious health outcomes, including an increased risk of heart disease and a greater chance of dying at a younger age.
Smokers once believed that “light” cigarettes meant lower health risk. This is not true. Studies found that the risk of serious health effects is not lower in smokers of light or low-tar cigarettes. Because of this, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned use of the terms “light,” “mild,” and “low” in any cigarette sales unless the FDA specifically allows it − and so far, they haven’t.
Some people think hand-rolled cigarettes are a cheaper and healthier way to smoke, but they are no safer than commercial brands. In fact, life-long smokers of hand-rolled cigarettes have been found to have a higher risk of cancers of the larynx (voice box), esophagus (swallowing tube), mouth, and pharynx (throat) when compared with smokers of machine-made cigarettes.
Some cigarettes are now being sold as “all natural.” They are marketed as having no chemicals or additives and rolled with 100% cotton filters. There’s no proof they are healthier or safer than other cigarettes, nor is there good reason to think they would be. All smoke from cigarettes, natural or otherwise, contains many agents that cause cancer (carcinogens) and toxins that come from burning the tobacco itself, including tar and carbon monoxide.
Even herbal cigarettes that do not contain tobacco give off tar, particulates, and carbon monoxide and are dangerous to your health.
What about menthol cigarettes, aren’t they safer?
Menthol cigarettes are not safer than unflavored cigarettes. In fact, they might even be more dangerous. These cigarettes tend to be “easier” to smoke — the added menthol produces a cooling sensation in the throat when the smoke is inhaled. It lessens the cough reflex and covers the dry feeling in the throat that smokers often have. People who smoke menthol cigarettes can inhale deeper and hold the smoke in longer.
About one-fourth (27%) of all cigarettes sold in the United States are flavored with menthol. These cigarettes are most popular among children, teens, African-Americans, Hispanics, and smokers in other minority groups.
Studies have shown that people who smoke menthol cigarettes are less likely to try to quit and are less likely to succeed when they do try. At least one researcher proposed that menthol smokers might want to switch to non-menthol cigarettes before they quit to improve their chances of quitting smoking.
Most people don’t know that many cigarette brands that are not advertised as having menthol often have a small amount of menthol added. Even amounts of menthol that are too small to taste can make a cigarette seem smoother and less harsh. These small amounts of menthol can ease the path for new smokers.
No matter what they smell like, taste like, look like, or are labeled as, all cigarettes are bad for you. The bottom line is there’s no such thing as a safe smoke.
A word about nicotine
Although other substances in cigarettes are known to cause cancer, nicotine is the addictive substance in tobacco. Nicotine is an addictive drug just like heroin and cocaine, and it keeps people coming back for more. Anyone who starts smoking or using nicotine in other forms can become addicted to nicotine.
Last Medical Review: 11/08/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013