- Questions About Smoking, Tobacco, and Health
- Is smoking tobacco really addictive?
- Why do people start smoking?
- How many people use tobacco?
- What in tobacco smoke is harmful?
- Is secondhand (environmental) tobacco smoke dangerous?
- How does tobacco use affect the economy?
- What’s being done to protect people from the hazards of smoking?
- Are spit tobacco and snuff safe alternatives to smoking?
- What are the health risks of smoking pipes or cigars?
- What about electronic cigarettes? Aren’t they safe?
- Is dissolvable tobacco safe?
- What about more exotic forms of smoking tobacco, such as clove cigarettes, bidis, and hookahs?
- What can I do to help with any damage that may have been caused by smoking?
- Can quitting really help a lifelong smoker?
- How do people quit tobacco?
- To learn more
What about more exotic forms of smoking tobacco, such as clove cigarettes, bidis, and hookahs?
Many forms of flavored tobacco have become popular in recent years, especially among younger people. Flavored cigars, clove cigarettes, bidis, and hookahs often appeal to those who want something a little different. They also give young people another way to experiment with tobacco. The false image of these products as clean, natural, and safer than regular cigarettes seems to attract some who may otherwise not start smoking. But these products carry many of the same risks of cigarettes and other tobacco products, and each has its own additional problems linked to it.
As of October 2009, federal laws have banned flavored cigarettes. It’s not illegal to have or smoke them, but it is illegal to sell them in the United States. Tobacco companies are working around this by making flavored small cigars as a replacement product.
See Cigar Smoking for more on this.
Clove cigarettes, also called kreteks, are imported mainly from Indonesia. They contain 60% to 70% tobacco and 30% to 40% ground cloves, clove oil, and other additives. The chemicals in cloves have been linked to asthma and other lung diseases.
Users often have the mistaken notion that smoking clove cigarettes is safer than smoking regular cigarettes. But this is a tobacco product with the same health risks as cigarettes. In fact, clove cigarettes have been shown to deliver more nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar than regular cigarettes.
Bidis or “beedies” are flavored cigarettes imported mainly from India. They are hand-rolled in an unprocessed tobacco leaf and tied with colorful strings on the ends. Their popularity has grown in part because they come in many candy-like flavors (strawberry, vanilla, licorice, and grape), and because they tend to cost less than regular cigarettes. They often give the smoker a quick buzz.
Even though bidis contain less tobacco than regular cigarettes, they deliver higher levels of nicotine (the addictive substance in tobacco) and other harmful substances, such as tar, ammonia, and carbon monoxide. Because they are thinner than regular cigarettes, they require about 3 times as many puffs per cigarette. They are also unfiltered.
Bidis seem to have all of the same health risks of regular cigarettes, if not more. Bidi smokers have much higher risks of heart attacks, chronic bronchitis, and some cancers than non-smokers.
Hookah (water pipes)
Hookah (or narghile) smoking started in the Middle East. Users burn flavored tobacco (called shisha) in a water pipe and inhale the smoke through a long hose. It has become popular among young people.
Hookah smoking is usually a social event in which smokers talk as they pass the pipe around. It’s thought of as a safer alternative to cigarettes because the percentage of tobacco in the product smoked is low and people think the water filters out the toxins. This is false. The water does not filter out many of the toxins. In fact, hookah smoke contains more toxins such as nicotine, carbon monoxide, tar, heavy metals, and other hazardous substances, than cigarette smoke. And users breathe in secondhand smoke, as well as toxins released from the heat sources used to burn hookah tobacco. It has been suggested that in a typical 1-hour hookah smoking session, users may breathe in 100 to 200 times the amount of smoke, 9 times the amount of carbon dioxide, and nearly twice the amount of nicotine they would get from one cigarette.
Several types of cancer have been linked to hookah smoking, including lung, mouth, and bladder cancer. Hookah use is also linked to other unique risks not found with cigarette smoking. For example, infectious diseases can be spread by sharing the pipe or through the way the tobacco is prepared.
All forms of tobacco are dangerous. Even if the health risks were smaller for some tobacco products as opposed to others, all tobacco products contain nicotine, which can lead to increased use and addiction. Tobacco is not safe in any amount or form.
Last Medical Review: 11/08/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013