An interview with Jack White in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine quotes the musician as saying, “I quit smoking cigarettes like six years ago. ... These [the cigarillos he’s described as now smoking] are just baby cigars. I don’t inhale.”
That sounds as though Mr. White (of whom, I must disclose, I am a huge fan) thinks those small cigars may be better for his health than the cigarettes he famously used to chain smoke.
Turns out that’s not the case.
Richard Hurt, director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, explains, “There’s no safe tobacco product.” A cigarillo, he notes, “Is basically a little cigar, and it’s just as harmful as a cigarette.”
Hurt says that “if you’re smoking cigars and have moderate inhalation, five [regular-size] cigars a day is the equivalent of smoking one pack of cigarettes a day as far as risk of developing lung cancer is concerned.” Similarly, he says, a cigar smoker’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer is comparable to that of a cigarette smoker; in fact, he says, the increased risk of that deadly cancer is compared to nonsmokers is 60 percent for cigar smokers and 50 percent for cigarette smokers.
As for that “moderate inhalation,” Hurt says, “most cigarette smokers who change over to cigars or pipes end up inhaling more than they think.”
But you don’t need to inhale a cigarillo’s smoke for it to do you harm. Turns out that they (like cigars and pipe tobacco) contain higher concentrations of “free nicotine” — the kind that can pass through your body’s membranes — than cigarettes do. That means the nicotine can easily enter your body through the skin of your lips and the inside of your mouth, Hurt explains. On top of all that, “the nicotine content [of cigars] can be up to three times as high as in cigarettes,” and “the concentration of carcinogens is much more dense in cigar smoke than cigarette smoke.” That’s because in cigars, “tobacco is more tightly packed, and there’s more of it.”
Does any of this come as news to you?