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Cigars, Cigarillos and Little Cigars

Cigars come in many shapes and sizes, but all types are made of air-cured and fermented tobacco rolled together with a tobacco-leaf wrapper. There are three major types of cigars sold in the United States: large cigars, cigarillos, and little cigars (cigarette-sized).

A large cigar typically contains one half ounce of aged, fermented tobacco and takes about one to two hours to smoke. A cigarillo is short (about 3 to 4 inches) and narrow and usually does not include a filter. It contains about three grams of tobacco. A little cigar is typically the same size as a cigarette and usually includes a filter. Some cigars, particularly cigarillos and little cigars, come in flavored varieties, including cherry, chocolate, vanilla, peach rum, raspberry, and sour apple, which may be especially appealing to youth.

picture of cigars

In the last decade, while the use of cigarettes has gone down, cigarillos and little cigars’ sales rates have increased dramatically. In fact, sales of little cigars have tripled since 1997.

Much of the increase in cigarillo and little cigar smoking can be linked to increases in taxes on cigarettes, which are usually much lower than taxes on all types of cigars. In addition, these products are often flavored and can be sold individually, which makes them more affordable for youth, unlike conventional cigarettes which are more strongly regulated.

Health Effects of Cigar Smoking

There is a common misbelief that both large and small cigars are less addictive and safer to use than traditional cigarettes. However, cigars, cigarillos, and little cigars contain the same toxic ingredients as cigarettes, including nicotine, and can be just as addictive and harmful.

In fact, cigar smoking leads to many of the same negative health effects found in regular cigarette smoking. All types of cigars can cause cancer of the lung, oral cavity, larynx and esophagus. Heavy cigar smokers (and those who inhale deeply) are also at an increased risk for developing coronary heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Current Estimate of Cigar, Cigarillo and Little Cigar Use in the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease control and Prevention, in 2012, an estimated 5.4 percent of Americans, 12 years of age or older, were current cigar users. For adults aged 18 years and older, an estimated 7.6 percent of African American, 5.5 percent of Whites, 4.2 percent of Hispanics, 7.9 percent of American Indian/ Alaska Native, and 1.7 percent of Asian Americans are current cigar smokers. Young adults, those aged 18 - 25, have the highest cigar smoking rate of any group.

In 2012, an estimated 12.6 percent of U.S. high school students were current cigar smokers. Cigar smoking among high school males (16.7 percent) is about double that of high school females (8.4 percent). Additionally, cigar use increased significantly among African American high school students to 16.7 percent in 2012.

Marketing Cigars, Cigarillos and Little Cigars

Much of the rise in popularity of cigar smoking is due to recent marketing efforts that have promoted cigars as symbols of a successful lifestyle. The campaign to increase the visibility of cigars has included endorsements by celebrities, product placement in movies, and development of cigar-friendly magazines, like Cigar Aficionado and Smoke.

Also, a review of formerly-secret tobacco industry documents finds that little cigars and cigarillos were intended to replace cigarettes as cigarette advertising became increasingly restricted. Advertising restrictions usually do not apply to cigars. Such marketing has helped Black & Mild (10 percent for large cigars and cigarillos) and Swisher Sweets (16.8 percent for large cigars and cigarillos and 52.5 percent for little cigars) become the two leading brands preferred by cigar smokers aged 12 years or older.


American Legacy Foundation. “Cigars, Cigarillos & Little Cigars Fact Sheet,” June 2009.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Smoking and Tobacco Use. "Fact Sheet: Cigars," 2013.

Delnevo CD, Hrywna M. “A Whole ‘Nother Smoke” or a Cigarette in Disguise: How RJ Reynolds Reframed the Image of Little Cigars. Am J Public Health. 2007; 97: 1368-1375.




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