The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Which is worse?
They are all bad for your health, but which is worse: cigars, cigarettes or hookah? The answer is inconclusive, of course, because they are all comprised of slightly similar substances that are used in very different ways. Cigarettes and hookah are inhaled completely, yet cigarettes have a filter and hookah doesn’t. Cigars aren’t inhaled completely, or aren’t supposed to be, yet they contain far more tobacco per serving. The dangers of cigars, cigarettes and hookah are great, and even though it may be difficult to explain the difference, we are going to try.
Tobacco and Your Health
The reason that tobacco smoke is so bad for your health comes down to two factors. One: you are lighting it on fire. If you smoke a paper wrapper filled with bark from a tree, it would also contain carcinogens. The burning of any organic substance and directing that smoke into your lungs would be harmful. However, tobacco in all three forms is treated in some form and that adds additional toxicity to the smoke.
Cigarettes are made from blended tobacco products, and by definition, must be wrapped in paper. More than that, cigarette tobacco is comprised of 599 potential additives. The U.S. government has approved these substances to be added to food products in small doses. However, the additives were never tested by the FDA in a scenario where they were burned. The burning of the tobacco and all of the additives creates nearly 70 chemicals known to cause cancer.
Cigars contain up to 20 times as much tobacco as cigarettes do. Along with the larger size, cigars have 80 times the amount of nitrosamine, 30 times the carbon monoxide and 20 times the ammonia found in cigarettes—all of which are carcinogens. These added toxins come from the fermenting and aging process that cigar tobacco goes through. In comparison to cigarettes, cigars have no filter, so they inherently produce more tar. However, cigar side-stream smoke, or second-hand smoke, is just as dangerous as from cigarettes.
Most people assume hookah smoke is not as toxic as tobacco smoke, but they are wrong. Against popular belief, the water in the pipe does not clean the smoke in any fashion. A standard session of hookah smoking lasts one to two hours, and the typical smoker consumes 150 times the amount of smoke as is in a single cigarette. That’s the equivalent of 15 packs of cigarettes. Additionally, hookah smoke commonly contains small metal fragments from the foil that the coal sits on to produce heat. This is a major irritant to the lungs.
The argument can be made that all three of these tobacco products are consumed in very different manners, and that is very true. It’s also true that all three contain an alarming number of carcinogens that can eventually lead to cancer and detrimental lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pulmonary fibrosis.