Updated 30 September 2015

Are cigars safer than cigarettes?

Love puffing on a cigar? Be warned: this form of tobacco is no safer than cigarettes.


You might think that smoking cigars is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, but don’t be fooled – even if the smoke isn’t intentionally inhaled, cigar smoking poses great health risks. Here’s why.

High in toxins
According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, cigars have an even higher level of cancer-causing substances than normal cigarettes. High concentrations of cancer-causing nitrosamines are produced during the fermentation process of cigar tobacco. When a cigar is smoked, these compounds are released. Nitrosamines are also found in cigarette smoke, but at a much lower level.

For every gram of tobacco smoked, cigar smoke also has more cancer-causing tar than cigarette smoke.

What’s more, cigar wrappers are less porous than cigarette wrappers. This makes the burning of the tobacco inside less thorough. The result is that the smoke also has a higher concentration of cancer-causing ammonia, tar and carbon monoxide than cigarette smoke.

This not only increases your risk of cancer, but developing coronary heart disease and other types of lung infection.

High cancer risk
There’s a common perception that because cigar smokers don’t inhale the smoke, it’s a lot safer to smoke cigars than cigarettes. However, this only means that cigar smokers are more likely to develop cancer of the lip, mouth, tongue and throat prior to developing other smoking-related cancers, e.g. cancer of the larynx, oesophagus and lungs.

Be warned that oral cancer can develop anywhere in the mouth where the smoke touches, says the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Whether smoke is inhaled or not, you’re still directly exposing your oral cavity to tobacco smoke and its toxic, cancer-causing chemicals.

Dangerous second-hand smoke
Second-hand smoke from people smoking cigars and cigarettes can be a significant source of air pollution. And this type of smoke can also cause and contribute to lung cancer and heart disease.

Although second-hand smoke from cigar and cigarette smoke contain the same toxic chemicals, cigars are larger in size and involve a longer smoking time than cigarettes. This results in higher exposure to these toxic substances.

Cigarettes no safer
Cigars may be far worse for your health than cigarettes, but this doesn’t mean cigarettes are the safer option. There’s no such thing as a safe tobacco product or a safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. The more you indulge, the higher your risk for disease.

The best course of action is to simply not smoke at all, and to avoid second-hand smoke in any form, as far as possible. It’s simple; to reduce your health risk and that of those around you, quit using tobacco – completely.

Read more: 

Cigars and pipe tobacco

Cigars, pipes as harmful as cigarettes
Cigarette substitutes gain popularity



Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Exercise benefits for seniors »

Working out in the concrete jungle Even a little exercise may help prevent dementia Here’s an unexpected way to boost your memory: running

Seniors who exercise recover more quickly from injury or illness

When sedentary older adults got into an exercise routine, it curbed their risk of suffering a disabling injury or illness and helped them recover if anything did happen to them.