Cigars -- still tobacco, still dangerous to your health

Many people view cigar smoking as more sophisticated and less dangerous than cigarette smoking. Yet one large cigar can contain as much tobacco as an entire pack of cigarettes. And the secondhand smoke it gives off, which others breathe in, can fill a room for hours.

It is important to know what cigars are, the recent trends in their use, and the possible health effects they may have on the people who smoke them and those around them.
How are cigars different from cigarettes?

A cigar is defined, for tax purposes, as "any roll of tobacco wrapped in leaf tobacco or in any substance containing tobacco," while a cigarette is "any roll of tobacco wrapped in paper or any substance not containing tobacco." Unlike most cigarettes, cigars do not usually have a filter.

Most cigars are made up of a single type of air-cured or dried tobacco. Cigar tobacco leaves are first aged for about a year and then fermented in a multi-step process that can take from 3 to 5 months. Fermentation causes chemical and bacterial reactions that change the tobacco. This is what gives cigars a different taste and smell from cigarettes.

Cigars come in many sizes. The smallest, known as little or small cigars, are about the size of a cigarette. Other than the fact that they are brown, they even look like cigarettes. Many have filters.

Slightly larger cigars are called cigarillos. Although they contain more tobacco, studies suggest that some people use them more like cigarettes -- smoking every day and often inhaling -- than cigars.

Large cigars may contain more than a half an ounce of tobacco. This is as much tobacco as a whole pack of cigarettes. It can take from 1 to 2 hours to smoke a large cigar.