I think we can all agree that smoking tobacco is among the least healthy habits people have. Tobacco smoke has been shown to contain a series of harmful substances, even if we don’t count nicotine, which can kill you in an instant. Still, people enjoy the smoke all over the world, in several forms. And these forms have different effects on the consumer.
Smoking tobacco is harmful, dangerous, and probably deathly
Smoking tobacco has been linked to a series of health conditions, both directly and indirectly. Lung cancer is the first that comes to mind, but there are many others – heart conditions, strokes, hypertension, miscarriages, erectile dysfunction, and the list could go on forever.
Second hand smoke (the one that has already been in the lungs of a smoker, along with the one that comes from tobacco products burning idly in an ashtray) is also dangerous. It has the same effects as consuming it directly – but on non-smokers exposed to it.
Still, the tobacco industry has an important contribution to the global economy. This means that smoking is not encouraged, but permitted.
Tobacco is consumed in a series of ways. Some people chew tobacco, others sniff tobacco powder, and yet others use tobacco orally as a mild stimulant – see snus and creamy snuffs for example.
Still, the most common form of tobacco use in Europe and the Americas is smoking it in one form or another. Today I want to take a look at some of these forms – namely cigarettes, cigars and pipes – and their effects on our health.
Cigarettes are perhaps the most accessible tobacco products worldwide. They consist of tobacco rolled in a paper tube, usually with a filter at one end, sold “ready to consume” basically everywhere. People who smoke cigarettes inhale the smoke directly, which gets into their lungs. It is perhaps the fastest way to introduce nicotine in the smoker’s system, but it also comes with a series of other – harmful – chemicals.
Some of these chemicals come from tobacco itself, while others are additives with their own share of negative effects. Besides, the paper itself adds to the mix of nasty things found in tobacco. Not to mention the fact that inhaling this mixture of chemicals raises the risk of lung cancer significantly.
Considered a more sophisticated form of smoking tobacco, cigars have become more popular over the years. Cigars are given out when a newborn sees the light for the first time, and generally used to celebrate happy events. They have become a symbol of welfare over time.
Compared to cigarettes, cigars are also considered to be less dangerous. They come with no paper wrapping, which improves their taste and reduces the number of sources for harmful chemicals. And not inhaling the smoke makes them less likely to contribute to lung cancer.
This is in part true – when it comes to lung cancer, cigars are indeed less dangerous. But let’s not forget that cigars are also made of tobacco, and carry much the same health risks as their paper-wrapped little brothers.
One premium cigar can hold as much tobacco as a full pack of cigarettes. Smoking one of these releases a whole lot of second-hand smoke, full of cancer-causing and otherwise harmful compounds. And its concentrated cancer-causing cocktail is absorbed through the mucous membranes of your mouth.
According to the National Cancer Institute, smoking cigars regularly dramatically increases the risk of oral cancer, and other forms of this deadly condition.
Smoking pipes is also a symbolic act – it expresses sophistication, leisure and contemplation. There are a huge variety of pipes, accessories and tobaccos available to pipe enthusiasts. In case of pipes, the emphasis on the quality of the tobacco, its taste and smell, is much higher.
But smoking tobacco in a pipe provides a nicotine kick, just like cigars, through the absorption of nicotine through the mucous membranes of the mouth. And it has about the same health risks associated with it.
The number of research papers focusing on pipe smokers is very low. The cause for this is that their numbers have also thinned. Pipe smoking does not appeal to women and adolescents, so governments tend to ignore this form of smoking.
But pipe tobacco is still tobacco, with all the health risks associated with it. Some even say that smoking a pipe can be more dangerous than smoking a cigar. Studies have shown that, while smoking a pipe is less dangerous than cigarettes, it bears the same health risks as smoking cigars. Pipe smokers are even more prone to cancer of the lips, the tongue and the larynx than cigar smokers.