Cigars: What You Need to Know Before You Smoke

Enter the world of college: a place for exploration, experimentation and all-around new experiences. As stress from class and extracurricular activities accumulates, a greater number of collegiettes are turning to smoking and drinking to blow off steam. You’ve seen the Solo cups and cigarette butts scattered around campus after a crazy weekend of parties… but what about cigars? Do students smoke them, and if so, why? We spoke with several experts to get the lowdown on cigars.

How are cigars different than cigarettes?

Unlike the typical cigarettes we’re used to seeing, cigars come in all shapes and sizes. “Cigars are made in a wide variety of sizes and styles, from cigarillos to Robustos, and all have different amounts of tobacco depending on the size and brand,” says Chuck Ghawi, the owner of Maison Edwards Tobacconist in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Cigarillos are short, narrow cigars that can be sold individually or in packs, and Robustos are large, Cuban-style cigars.

Ghawi says that like cigarettes, cigars are made up of tobacco and are held together by a binder and wrapper. However, cigars are different than cigarettes because most cigars don’t have a filter. In cigarettes, the filter works to reduce the roughness of the smoke as you inhale it. Since smoking cigarettes involves inhaling the smoke deeply into your lungs, the filter is an important feature! But this isn’t the case for cigars. According to Ghawi, “The harshness of the smoke makes it hard to inhale,” and so cigar smokers prefer “to puff on the cigar to enjoy the flavor instead.”

No longer are cigars only enjoyed by classy, older men on golf outings or shared between business executives after a busy day of work (does Don Draper from Mad Men ring a bell?). The American Cancer Society claims that “cigar smokers in the past were mainly middle-aged and older men with higher education and income, but many new cigar users today are teens and young adults.”

In a nationwide survey of students from 119 different colleges completed by the Harvard School of Public Health, 23 percent of the students reported that they smoked a cigar in the last year, while 9 percent reported that they were current cigar users.

Why do students smoke them?

Is it the allure of feeling sophisticated? Does Robin Scherbatsky from How I Met Your Mother make them look so cool?

Kenneth Warner, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan, says students try cigars because they are unaware of the health risks. Many assume that because you don’t need to inhale when smoking them, they are a safer option. “Students may think of cigarettes as being more tainted, and so they have this negative association,” he says. “Cigars seem to be a more fun, celebratory alternative.”

Kelsey*, a senior at Central Michigan University, says she and friends enjoy smoking at social events. “After a long night of drinking, it’s pretty common to share a smoke between friends,” she says. For her, smoking may include cigarettes, marijuana and even cigars, depending on what’s available at the time. “Some cigars are cheap, so it makes more sense to buy them,” she says.

Sam*, a freshman at the University of Michigan, also says that price plays a factor in her choice to buy cigars. “Small cigars are really inexpensive,” she says. “The prices of cigarettes are pretty ridiculous, so I stay away from them.” Instead of paying up to $5 for a pack of cigarettes, users can now purchase little cigars for roughly $1.40 a pack.

In addition to coming in different sizes, cigars can be made in an array of candy-like flavors, including everything from strawberry and chocolate to wild cherry and candy apple. Taylor*, a junior at the University of Michigan, says she enjoys smoking cigars because of the variety of options. “I don’t like the taste or smell of plain cigarettes,” she says. “I definitely go for flavored smoke, whether it’s a kind of hookah or cigars.”