Cigar Smoking

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What about secondhand cigar smoke?

Because cigars contain more tobacco than cigarettes, and because they often burn for much longer, they give off greater amounts of secondhand smoke. This is also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) or passive smoke. Secondhand smoke includes both the smoke from the end of the burning cigar and the smoke exhaled by the smoker.

All tobacco smoke, whether from cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, is known to cause cancer. In general, secondhand smoke from cigars contains many of the same toxins (poisons) and carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) as cigarette smoke.

Some of the toxins and irritants in cigar smoke include:

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Nicotine
  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Ammonia

Some agents that cause cancer (carcinogens) and can be found in cigar smoke include:

  • Benzene
  • Aromatic amines (especially carcinogens such as 2-naphthylamine and 4-aminobiphenyl)
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Ethylene oxide
  • Arsenic
  • Chromium
  • Cadmium
  • Nitrosamines
  • Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Volatile aldehydes (including formaldehyde)

Like all tobacco, cigars can also contain radioactive elements, which may add to the cancer risk.

There are some differences between cigar and cigarette smoke, though. These differences are due to the aging and fermenting of cigar tobacco and the fact that the cigar wrapper is not as porous as cigarette paper.

Cigar tobacco has a high concentration of nitrogen compounds (nitrates and nitrites). When the fermented cigar tobacco is smoked, these compounds give off several tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), some of the most potent cancer-causing substances known. Also, because the cigar wrapper is less porous, the tobacco doesn’t burn as completely. The result is a higher concentration of nitrogen oxides, ammonia, carbon monoxide, and tar – all very harmful substances.

Last Medical Review: 02/19/2014
Last Revised: 02/19/2014