MD SteinHealth Blog - Behavioral Medicine

Cigarillos: What's Up With The "Hype"?

Published on 2011-08-02 by MD Stein

Unlike cigarette smoking, cigar smoking rates have not declined over the past decade. This is primarily due to the use of cigarillos, a type of cigar growing more popular among teenagers and young adults. While cigarillo use increases, detailed scientific data about its absolute risk—the amount of tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide and tobacco specific nitrosamines inhaled—remains minimal.


Visualization is courtesy of

Cigarillos—short and slender with hollow, unfiltered tips—are comprised of a tobacco leaf wrapper, a reconstituted tobacco binder, and tobacco leaf filler. They contain less tobacco than large cigars and come in cherry, vanilla and blueberry flavors to mask the cigar smoke bitterness. Because they are sold individually, they’re not marketed like cigarettes. They can also be modified before lighting up, which may make them even more appealing to hands-on young smokers who make up two-thirds of all users.

Modifying cigarillos is done by removing the tobacco binder before smoking, a maneuver known as “hyping” or “freaking” (you can watch it on YouTube). The smoker loosens and dumps the tobacco, removes the binder, then pours the tobacco back into the leaf wrapper.  Removing the binder, many smokers believe, not only enhances taste and increases the burn rate, but also reduces the risk of cancer. But this is an unfortunate and untrue rumor; calling the binder “cancer paper” doesn’t eliminate cancer risk.

It is probably true that hyping can lead to some tobacco loss, and may increase produce porosity, relative to the unmodified product. This could possibly lead to lower levels of inhaled nicotine and other intoxicants (if puff number and intensity remain unchanged). But cigarillos remain combustible tobacco products, and due to their size, “hyped” or not, are likely to produce higher nicotine (and carcinogenic nitrosamine) levels than a normal cigarette. Let’s get the science done to quantify it.

One in four young adults in Virginia smoked cigarillos in the past month. It’s time to do the studies and continue to assert that tobacco smoked in any form is a kind of death in slow motion. 

MD Stein


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