Cancer Risk with Cigars

Last Modified: March 22, 2012


My friends and I enjoy a few cigars when we get together, is there a risk of lung cancer with cigars?


Gloria DiLullo, MSN, CRNP, OncoLink Content Specialist, responds:

Many people view cigar and pipe smoking as safer than cigarette smoking, but this is not true. Cigars are often thought to be safer than cigarettes because most smokers do not inhale them. However, cigars are particularly dangerous due to the process of aging and fermenting the tobacco, which creates carcinogenic compounds (such as tar, carbon monoxide, and ammonia) in cigar smoke in much higher levels than found in cigarette smoke. One large cigar can contain as much tobacco (up to 20 grams) as an entire pack of cigarettes (1 gram of tobacco per cigarette)! Even though many cigar smokers do not inhale, the amount of nicotine is higher in a cigar (1-2 milligrams in a cigarette versus up to 400 milligrams in a single cigar) and this nicotine is quickly absorbed in the saliva.

Although lung cancer rates are lower in cigar and pipe smokers than in cigarette smokers, they are still significantly higher than nonsmokers are. With or without inhalation, cigar, and pipe smoking causes cancer and is not a "safe" alternative to cigarettes. The most common cancers associated with cigar and pipe smoke are those of the lung, oral (lip, tongue, mouth) and nasal (nose) cavity, sinuses, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), esophagus (tube from the throat to the stomach) and possibly pancreas and bladder.

The chance of developing cancer increases with the amount of tobacco someone has used and for how many years. Inhaling the smoke produced when a cigar is burned (how could you avoid it?) adds to the risk of developing tobacco-related illnesses. Cigar smokers are more likely to develop heart disease and lung diseases than those who do not smoke. Additionally, cigar smoking can result in gum disease and tooth loss. Because cigars contain more tobacco than cigarettes, and burn for much longer, they also give off greater amounts of secondhand smoke, negatively affecting those around you.

For more information about the dangers of cigar and pipe smoking, check out these links:

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. View the entire Cancer Risk & Prevention Webchat transcript.