DEC 13, 2017 6:59 AM PST

Are Cigars Just as Bad as Cigarettes?

Many people choose to smoke cigars, because, unlike cigarettes, the smoke isn't inhaled directly. Cigar smokers puff but do not drag as cigarette smokers do. Research from Penn State, however, shows that cigars are not healthier than cigarettes and in fact may contain more nicotine than the average Lucky Strike or Marlboro.

The project involved analyzing the nicotine content in a particular cigar. Called small cigars or "filtered" cigars, they are similar to cigarettes, but are wrapped in leaves from the tobacco plant rather than paper, which is used in cigarettes. In these cigars, the nicotine levels were equal to and sometimes higher than cigarettes.

Part of the reason many smokers think cigars are safer is likely because tobacco companies can get around many of the regulations that apply to cigarettes but do not apply to filtered and small cigars. John Richie is a professor of public health sciences and pharmacology in the Penn State College of Medicine, and he explained why some consumers don't realize the danger of cigars in this class, stating, "There are many misconceptions about cigars. The truth is, cigar smoke is inhaled and is just as harmful to the lungs. Tobacco companies use loopholes in the way these products are taxed to allow these small cigars to be substantially cheaper than cigarettes. They can also get around the regulation that says cigarettes can't be flavored, to avoid making them appealing to children. These small cigars come in all kinds of flavors."

Penn State has a dedicated study area for issues surrounding the health effects of smoking, called the Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science. The purpose is to study regulations concerning tobacco products. Cigars that are small or filtered don't have to meet the same regulatory standards as traditional cigarettes, and researchers at Penn say that consumers are not well informed on the risks of these products. Ritchie believes that the research results at Penn show that these cigars, which are slipping through regulatory cracks, should be placed in the same class as cigarettes since they are equally dangerous and addicting.

The study involved analyzing the nicotine delivery in 8 different brands of cigars along with two kinds of regular cigarettes. A machine in the lab that recreates the act of "smoking" was used to measure levels of nicotine in each product. The device can be adjusted to simulate different way people smoke. One method, the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) method, had the machine taking puffs that were two seconds long, every sixty seconds, with none of the filter vents in the machine blocked off. The second method, the Canada Intense (CI) method also used two second drags, but were only thirty seconds apart and the filter vents were covered.

When the ISO method was used, the mean average nicotine delivered by the small cigars came out to 1.24 mg per cigar. A traditional cigarette only put out .87 mg of nicotine. Under the CI method, which was unfiltered, the nicotine delivered by the cigars was 3.49 mg compared to 2.13 mg coming out of the cigarettes. The researchers at Penn hope to continue the work and measure levels of toxins in cigars vs. cigarettes.

Ritchie summed up the work, stating, "These products are basically cigarettes. They're as harmful to you as cigarettes, if not more so. It's very important for the consumer to understand that these are not products that are less harmful, and for regulations to include these small cigars in with cigarettes." Check out the video below for more information on cigars, cigarettes and the amounts of nicotine.

Sources: Journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, News 18, Penn State via EurekaAlert! 

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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