Cigar vs. Cigarette Smoking

By Julie Alvira, MD, MBA

TRENDY! is the word for cigar smoking. While it’s not a new practice, it’s certainly a trend that has caught followers from all over the world. Many years ago, and in a traditional manner, gentleman retired to a special room for the purpose of smoking a Cuban cigar (worldly famous) with their favorite drink and relax and feel empowered.

Remember in the movie Titanic when Rose mentioned to Jack that the men were going smoking and talking and how they were masters of the universe? Yup, for men, smoking a cigar gives a high. But wait, nowadays women are smoking cigars as well. Every day, lots of new establishments are opening for the public to smoke a “puro.” It has become a novel and sophisticated hobby for many. Even non-smokers are trying cigars at social gatherings and in cigar rooms with friends. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reiterates that cigarette use has declined, while there’s been a large increase in the use of cigars. For many, it’s a pastime but for others it’s a vice. The American Lung Association (2014) notes that about 60% of cigar smokers have smoked cigarettes before. An interesting observation is that men, women, and a new age group, teenagers, think they are not as harmful as cigarettes.

Realities between cigar and cigarette smoking

It’s of general knowledge that smoking is one of several risk factors linked to cardiovascular disease. Between cigar and cigarette smoking, there are differences, but both are harmful. The American Cancer Society explains that unlike a cigarette, a cigar odor tends to be more unique. Cigars are not only air cured; when they’re made, they also pass through a process of fermentation. Cigarettes are non-fermented.

Not all cigars are smoked the same way. Although most cigar smokers don’t inhale when smoking a large cigar, it takes longer to smoke than a cigarette. It’s been said that some ex-cigarette smokers smoke cigars the same way––inhaling, while others do not. Cigar smoking is dangerous because the smoke makes contact with the lining of the oral cavity, creating greater exposure to toxic substances such as lead, cadmium, ammonia, carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde, butane, and acetone. Cigars have a higher level of cancer-causing nitrosamine, produced during the fermentation process. Even knowing all this, why is the trend getting bigger every day?

As Raul Julia says, “Why pay $100 on a therapy session when you can spend $25 on a cigar? You lose yourself in it; everything fades away: your worries, your problems, your thoughts.”

Nicotine and mental effects

There are several substances in the brain called neurotransmitters. One of them, dopamine, is released when a person engages in pleasurable activities, especially while engaging in your favorite hobby. But it’s also released when a person uses drugs like cocaine, marijuana, heroin, or when a cigar or cigarette is smoked. The reason why is because nicotine (the psychoactive ingredient in cigars and cigarettes) also increases levels of dopamine. The American Cancer Society reiterates that the amount of nicotine in a large cigar equals the amount of nicotine in a pack of cigarettes. So now we understand the words of Mr. Raul Julia.

As a cigar is smoked, the nicotine works on the brain by immediately promoting relaxation and making a person believe that stress and anxiety are reduced. But, wait! That is short-term. Later on, that same person will feel a cascade of withdrawal symptoms of anxiety, tension, and craving, which leads the way for a second cigar. And the cycle goes again. It’s also known that a lot of mental health patients smoke to reduce their symptoms but the reality is, their underlying symptoms are not reduced and most become nicotine dependent as well.

So if you want to live a little longer, you decide. As Rob Liano once said: “Knowledge is power. No. The knowledge alone is nothing, the application of knowledge is powerful.”

Julie Alvira, M.D., MBA Healthcare Management creator of AJBodysculpt. A health, wellness, and fitness platform that provides you with the necessary tools to get into a healthier lifestyle. Health & Wellness Keynote Speaker/ Corporate Wellness Consulting/ Coaching/ Writer. You can see her fitness videos in Youtube: AJBodysculpt. Contact: