"Before I speak, I have something important to say." — Groucho Marx

I admit that I was a little surprised when, after my son's high school graduation, I saw a large group of teenagers in their caps and gowns smoking cigars right outside. Maybe you too have seen teens smoking cigars.

How many teens are lighting up? In the past, cigar smoking in the United States was a behavior of older men (and Groucho Marx). Not so anymore. Results from the 2015 Monitoring the Future survey found that about 24 percent of 12th grade males had smoked a small cigar within the prior 30 days. About 10 percent of teens in grades 9-12 had smoked a cigar — equal to the number who had smoked a cigarette. Holy smokes!!! Girls as well as boys smoked cigars. Cigar use was higher among teens who used other tobacco products or drugs.

Why teenagers?  Perhaps because cigars are being marketed to them. Some cigars contain candy and fruit flavoring, such as strawberry or grape. Some cigars are sold as a single stick, making them cheaper and easier to get.

Tobacco is tobacco, right?  Close, but no cigar. There are differences between cigars and cigarettes, explains the National Cancer Institute.  A cigar is tobacco in a tobacco-containing wrapper, while a cigarette is tobacco wrapped in paper. A cigar usually contains a single type of tobacco whereas a cigarette is made from different blends of tobaccos. Cigar tobacco is fermented and cigarette tobacco is not. A cigarette is inhaled so nicotine is absorbed through the lungs.

A cigar smoker does not usually "officially" inhale; nicotine is absorbed through the lining of the mouth. In addition, all cigars are not the same. A large cigar is unfiltered, contains up to 20 grams of tobacco, and usually takes one to two hours to smoke. A cigarillo is an unfiltered short cigar and contains about 3 grams of tobacco. A little cigar is like a cigarette in that it has a filter, is about the same size, has about 1 gram of tobacco, and is similarly packaged.

If you think that cigars are safer than cigarettes, think again. There is no safe level of tobacco use. No ifs, ands, or butts. Cigars actually have more toxins than cigarettes because of the fermentation process, and the user gets more toxins because of cigars' non-porous wrappers (toxins don't leak out) and longer smoking duration.

The health risks for the cigar smoker are serious…and increase as the smoker uses more cigars and inhales more deeply:

  • Nicotine addiction: A single large cigar contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.
  • Cancer: Including cancer of the lips, mouth, tongue, throat, larynx, esophagus and lungs.
  • Heart and lung disease: Coronary artery disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
  • Second-hand smoke: Contributes to lung cancer and heart disease and increases asthma, ear infections and respiratory infections in children.

Cigars may be especially dangerous when they're inhaled like cigarettes. Switching from cigarette smoking to cigar smoking can be particularly harmful because individuals might inhale as deeply as they inhaled cigarette smoke. That's adding fuel to the fire!

"Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself." — Groucho Marx

Quitting help:

Not at all!

My hope is that Groucho and I got you to read about this risky behavior our teens are engaging in. Parents, it's time to talk with your teens about the risks of cigar smoking.

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