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Cigars and Your Teen, What Parents Should Know

Teens and cigars

Little cigars and cigarillos (somewhat larger than little cigars) are gaining in popularity among adolescents, both males and females. Here’s what the latest studies and research say about cigars and your teen, and what parents should know.

Is your teen smoking cigars?

It used to be that the typical image of a cigar smoker was an overweight man seated at a bar or gambling table with a burning brown cigar sticking out of the side of his mouth. Today you can often substitute a teenage boy or girl standing on the street corner with their friends.

Approximately 18 percent of teenagers smoked at least one cigarette in the past month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011; CDC). The percentage of cigar smokers is closing in on that figure: 13.1 percent of teenagers are current cigar smokers, with males edging out females (13.1% vs 8%, respectively).

The CDC figures on cigar smoking differ from those of a recent study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, although the evaluated population did include some older individuals. That study used data from Legacy’s Young Adult Cohort, which included 4,215 young adults ages 18 to 34.

The Legacy data showed that 37.9 percent of the young adults had ever smoked cigars. Of these cigar smokers, 21.5 percent used only little cigars or cigarillos, 32.3 percent used only large cigars, and 46.2 percent used both. Of interest is that little cigar/cigarillo users tended to be younger (18-24), to be female, and to also smoke cigarettes daily.

Why teens smoke cigars

Why are teens turning to little cigars and what are the potential consequences? Several reasons have come to light, and a new study in the American Journal of Public Health explores a few of them.

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The study’s authors evaluated the availability, price, and advertising associated with little cigars and cigarillos in 759 licensed tobacco retail outlets in Washington, DC. They found that:

  • Prices of little cigars and cigarillos were lower in some young adult neighborhoods
  • There was more exterior advertising for the cigars in areas that had a higher proportion of African Americans and young adults

These findings led the authors to state that greater availability of little cigars and cigarillos in black neighborhoods, along with cheaper prices and more outdoor advertising in largely minority and young adult neighborhoods “may establish environmental triggers to smoke among groups susceptible to initiation, addiction, and long-term negative health consequences.”

Teens also like little cigars because they are available in flavors; for example, chocolate, vanilla, cherry, grape, and strawberry, among others. This factor, as well as the fact cigars can be bought individually for about one dollar (vs. $5 or more for a pack of cigarettes) makes cigars attractive for teens.

Health hazards of cigars
What’s the difference between cigars, cigarillos, and cigarettes when it comes to health hazards? Two big differences are in the amount of tobacco and nicotine in each and the amount of time it takes to smoke.

These are especially important factors because while cigarettes are typically inhaled, cigars are not. However, teens often treat cigars like cigarettes, which exposes them to increased levels of nicotine and other toxins in the tobacco. Longer smoking times also prolongs the exposure to toxic substances.

  • Cigarettes contain less than 1 gram of tobacco each and take about 8 to 10 minutes to smoke
  • Large cigars (approximately 7 inches or longer) contain 5 to 20 grams of tobacco and can take up to 2 hours to smoke. Smokers often put the cigars out and relight them later.
  • Cigarillos are larger than little cigars and contain about 3 grams of tobacco
  • Little cigars are the same size and shape as cigarettes and contain about 1 gram of tobacco. Some come with filters, which suggests they should be inhaled (i.e., smoked like cigarettes).

How dangerous are cigars? Here’s the scoop:

  • Cigar tobacco is fermented (cigarette tobacco is not), and during fermentation a high concentration of nitrosamines (cancer-causing substances) are produced. These toxins are released when cigars are smoked.
  • Cigars have more cancer-causing tar than do cigarettes
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  • The longer a person smokes a cigar, the more he or she is exposed to carbon monoxide, ammonia, cadmium, hydrocarbons, and dozens of other toxins
  • Cigar wrappers are nonporous (unlike cigarette papers), which means cigar tobacco is not burned as completely as cigarette tobacco. Thus, cigar smoke contains higher concentrations of toxins than does cigarette smoke
  • Like cigarettes, cigars are associated with a high risk of cancer

Is your teen smoking cigars? It’s a question parents need to ask themselves and their kids today.

Cantrell J et al. Marketing little cigars and cigarillos: advertising, price, and associations with neighborhood demographics. American Journal of Public Health 2013 Aug 15. Epub ahead of print
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Cancer Institute
Richardson A et al. Primary and dual users of little cigars/cigarillos and large cigars: demographic and tobacco use profiles. Nicotine and Tobacco Research 2013 May 3. Epub ahead of print

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