Cigar Smoking

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Who smokes cigars?

Cigar smokers in the past were mainly middle-aged, older men with higher education and income, but most new cigar users today are teens and young adults. In 2012, more high school boys smoked cigars than cigarettes (16.7 vs 16.3%). Looking at all first-time tobacco users, nearly 2.7 million smoked cigars, while 2.3 million smoked cigarettes.

According to 2012 research, about 17% of male and 8% of female high school students had smoked a cigar within the last month, compared to the average of 5% from all ages.

In all, about 13.4 million people age 12 and older smoke cigars.

Cigar smoking is popular in the United States where a “cigar culture” is supported by cigar magazines, shops, and bars or clubs. Many cigar smokers think of themselves as connoisseurs, much like wine experts. They may view cigars as a sophisticated, affordable luxury that represents status and success. Some see cigar smoking as a sign of taste and refinement. This image is fueled in part by the efforts of the tobacco industry to glamorize cigars, and the willingness of celebrities and athletes to be paid and photographed smoking cigars.

Teenagers and young adults may be particularly open to this kind of cigar marketing. But the proposed link between cigars and success for the most part isn’t real. In fact, cigar use is much higher in unemployed adults than in people who work full or part time.

Sales of what are now legally defined as “small cigars” actually decreased by 65% between 2000 and 2011. During that same time, the increase in “large cigar” sales has been dramatic – increasing 233% between 2000 and 2011. Some of the products now classified as “large cigars” are sold in packs of 20, just like cigarettes. Their size, shape, filters, and packaging make them look like cigarettes, except for their color. This shift in official reports of cigar use is mainly due to the tobacco industry making sure that most small cigars now meet the legal definition of large cigars. The new legal definitions of “large cigars” and “small cigars” make it very confusing to read official reports of tobacco use and sales (see the section “How are cigars different from cigarettes?”). More importantly, they allow the tobacco industry to bypass the newer laws and higher taxes that apply to small cigars but not large cigars.

Tobacco companies add strawberry, chocolate, and other sweet flavors to cigars, which appeal to younger smokers not yet accustomed to the taste of tobacco. As of November 2010, such flavors can’t be added to cigarettes, but there are no such restrictions on cigars. This may lead to an even greater increase in cigar smoking as tobacco companies take advantage of the lack of regulation of these products. Taxes on cigars are lower than cigarettes, so they are much cheaper in most states. The low cost makes them even more attractive to younger buyers.

See “Why so many options?” in the section called “How are cigars different from cigarettes?” for more on this.

For more information on youth and cigars, see our document Child and Teen Tobacco Use.

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