What kinds of illness and death are caused by smoking cigars?
Regular cigar smoking increases your risk for many cancers, including:
- Oral cavity (tongue, mouth, and/or throat)
- Esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach)
- Larynx (voice box)
Studies have shown that regular cigar smokers are 4 to 10 times more likely to die from cancers of the mouth, larynx, and esophagus than non-smokers. For those who inhale, cigar smoking appears to be linked to death from cancer of the pancreas and bladder, too.
How you smoke and how much you smoke are both important. Cigar smokers may spend an hour smoking one large cigar that can contain as much tobacco as a pack of cigarettes. Smoking more cigars each day or inhaling cigar smoke leads to more exposure and higher risks. The health risks linked to occasional cigar smoking (less than daily) are less clear.
Does inhaling affect the risk of cancer?
Almost all cigarette smokers inhale, but in the past most cigar smokers typically did not. This could be because cigar smoke tends to irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and breathing passages. A new trend among cigar companies is to change the fermenting process to make cigar smoke easier to inhale. This curing and fermenting process enhances the flavor but also increases the levels of harmful ingredients. Many of the smaller cigarette-like cigars have filters, which also makes them easier to inhale.
In those who don’t inhale, tobacco smoke does not reach the lungs in the same amounts as it does in cigarette smokers. As a result, the risk of death from lung cancer for cigar smokers who don’t inhale is not as high as it is for cigarette smokers. Still, it is many times higher than the risk for non-smokers. Keep in mind that even cigar smokers who don’t inhale are still breathing in large amounts of smoke that comes from their mouths and the lit end of the cigar.
Cigars that are about the size of cigarettes are changing the way cigars are smoked and how “cigar” is defined. Researchers have found that when surveying people about cigar use, the use of brand examples helps improve accuracy of the estimates. Some smokers think of smaller cigars as cigarettes, and we know that they tend to smoke them the same way. The health outcomes of this remain to be seen. But we do have some data because cigar smokers who have smoked cigarettes are more likely to inhale.
According to an American Cancer Society study, cigar smokers who inhale have an 11 times greater risk of death from lung cancer than non-smokers. This study also found that cigar smokers who inhale are at increased risk for other types of cancer, too. Compared to non-smokers, cigar smokers who inhale deeply:
- Are 7 times more likely to die from tongue, mouth, and/or throat (oral) cancer
- Are 39 times more likely to die from cancer of the voice box (larynx)
- Face about 3 times the risk of death from cancer of the pancreas
- Face about 4 times the risk of death from bladder cancer
Other health problems caused by smoking
Heart and lung disease
Cigarette smoking is known to increase the risk of lung diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Cigarette smokers also have twice the risk of dying of heart attacks as do non-smokers. While the link is not quite as strong as with cigarette smoking, cigar smoking (especially for people who inhale) also increases the risk of heart disease and lung diseases, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Heart and lung diseases can steal away a person’s enjoyment of life long before they cause death. These problems can start when smokers are in their 40s and tend to worsen with age. Smoking-related illness can make it harder for a person to breathe, get around, work, or play.
One long-term study found that men who smoked cigars or pipes lost more than 5 years of being healthy, and then went on to die an average of nearly 5 years earlier compared to non-smokers. It’s worth noting that this study did not include people who smoked the newer types of small cigars, which may have even greater health risks.
Other effects on the body
Cigar smoking, like cigarette smoking, is linked to gum disease, where the gums shrink away from the teeth. It also raises the risk that your teeth will fall out.
At least one study has linked cigar smoking to sexual impotence in men (an inability to get an erection, also known as erectile dysfunction).
Last Medical Review: 02/19/2014
Last Revised: 02/19/2014