Cigars and Health: What You Should Know
by David "Doc" Diaz
Revised Monday November 14, 2011
In an increasingly health conscious world, many people want to know how cigars will affect their overall health. In this article I'll discuss the risks associated with cigar smoking and how you can reduce those risks.
First of all, let's get this straight; cigar smoking is not a healthy activity. Anybody who thinks it is probably missed the day in grade school where the teacher talked about common sense. We don't smoke cigars because they're healthy, we do it because we personally enjoy them, because smoking cigars with friends and acquaintances is a great social activity or celebratory activity and because collecting cigars and their accoutrements can be a fun and interesting hobby. That said, cigar smoking doesn't necessarily have to translate into high risk for morbidity or mortality.
Consider first of all that "health," whatever it may mean, is never static. In other words, you don't suddenly one day achieve health and then never have to worry about it again. Health is always on a sliding scale—it's dynamic. Sometimes you're healthier and sometimes less healthy. The risks that are associated with smoking fall in to three camps: those related to your genetics, those related to your specific lifestyle practices and those related to your pattern of smoking.
Cigar smoking is a lot like eating food and drinking alcohol. The risk of suffering from a disease associated with these practices is related not only to what you consume, but how much you consume. Eating a hamburger with French fries and a Soda is unlikely to kill you. What leads to poor health and eventual disease is eating that same meal day-in and day-out for 20 years. There is usually a pattern of excess that is configured in a dose-response relationship between unhealthy practices (or healthy ones) and disease. The greater the dose, the greater the response. So, while heavy alcohol consumption can give rise to various diseases, moderate alcohol consumption may have no effects, or even beneficial effects on health. Those who smoke 1-2 cigars per day will likely experience lesser negative effects than those who smoke 4-5 cigars per day.
Cigar smoking can be related to coronary artery disease, but moderate cigar smokers that don't inhale and have never smoked cigarettes have been shown to have the same risk or sometimes lower risk of coronary artery disease as their non-smoking counterparts.
As mentioned above, there are other factors that apart from cigar smoking might be related to the development of heart disease, like family history of heart disease, high levels of LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and the existence of signs and symptoms related to heart disease. All these are called "risk factors" and must be taken into account, along with other lifestyle factors (e.g., exercise, stress management, etc.) as well as your patterns of smoking cigars.
Cigar smoking can lead to cancers of the esophagus, larynx, tongue and even lung cancer. However the development of these cancers is in part dependent on other risk factors like family history of cancer, inhalation practices, type of cigars smoked, alcohol consumption and other environmental factors. So, for example, if you have parents or siblings that have suffered from any type of cancer, especially before the age of 50, then your risk for developing cancer is already higher than normal and, in combination with cigar smoking, will also probably be yet higher. Also, if you are a heavy consumer of alcohol, which is a risk factor for various types of diseases including cancer, then combining that activity with cigar smoking can increase your risk.
Nicotine addiction and carbon monoxide poisoning, which are two factors that have been related to cigarette smoking, are typically not a problem with moderate cigar smokers. Since carbon monoxide is only absorbed through the lungs, a cigar smoker who does not inhale and who smokes in an environment where they're not inhaling second-hand smoke, will not be affected. Further, since nicotine is absorbed largely through the lungs and minimally through the mucous membranes of the mouth, the great majority of moderate cigar smokers, who have never smoked cigarettes, tend not to develop nicotine dependency, nor do they necessarily increase their consumption of cigars over time.
You would do well to monitor your risk factors and try to limit the assembly of too many of them. Some risk factors are outside of your control (i.e., age, family history), while others may be modified in positive or negative ways by you (i.e., physical activity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, quantity and frequency of smoking, pattern of smoking).
By practicing the following principles, you can help lower your risk of suffering from coronary heart disease and cancer, which are the two most prolific causes of death:
1. Don't inhale cigar smoke. If you continue to put rolled, dried vegetable matter in your mouth, light it, and suck it down inside your lungs for any period of time you will likely suffer some negative health consequence. By not inhaling you substantially reduce the risks.
2. Don't breathe-in sidestream cigar smoke. Sidestream cigar smoke comes from the incomplete burning of tobacco and is full of harmful chemicals. So, don't smoke in an enclosed room, or if you do, make sure there is adequate ventilation. If possible, smoke outside where sidestream and second-hand smoke can be dispersed.
3. If you smoke cigarettes, don't pick up cigar smoking as an alternative. Cigarette smokers tend to inhale reflexively and for the ex-cigarette smoker, cigar smoking may not be a viable alternative.
4. If you are a heavy alcohol user, your risk will be increased exponentially if you also use tobacco products. Heavy consumption of alcohol combines with all tobacco products to produce high risk for heart disease and cancer.
Cigar smoking can be a relaxing, social hobby that doesn't have to negatively affect one's health. Though cigar smoking is not without risk, those risks can be managed so that they are acceptable to those who smoke moderately and responsibly.
About the Author
David "Doc" Diaz is the publisher and the editor of the Stogie Fresh Cigar Publications. He has served as an educator, researcher and writer and has taught in the Health Education and Health Science field for over 30 years. He possesses an earned doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Doc is a Certified Master Tobacconist (CMT), having received this certification from the Tobacconist University and is a member and Ambassador of Cigar Rights of America (CRA).blog comments powered by Disqus