Hear the word tobacco, and the plant’s primary stimulant likely comes to mind. Condemned for its habit-forming influence yet sought for its diminishing “buzz” effect, the chemical compound known as nicotine remains a touchstone for debate around the globe.
Yet for as addictive (or non-addictive) as they may be, there is no denying the fact that all tobacco products have some level of nicotine within them. It’s just part and parcel of the whole tobacco experience, with cigars arguably being the most misunderstood.
Whether the devout legacy cigar brand buyer or a boutique cigar type of stogie smoker, all hand-rolled cigar shoppers obtain a unique nicotine blend with each purchase made.
This leads to a very particular query: How much nicotine is contained in the average hand-rolled cigar?
In our never-ending search for stogie solutions and tobacco-related trivia, we scoured a collage of lab reports and government data to find out more about this nicotine-rich subject.
What we came up with was a set of facts about the tobacco plant itself, the role cigars play in nicotine’s delivery to the human body, and some pointers for those looking to curb their intake of this sensory influencing stimulant.
How Nicotine Influences Your Noggin
Being that nicotine is a stimulant, the average human brain tends to favor the effects that it produces. Here’s how it works…
On a molecular level, nicotine closely resembles a naturally-occurring neurotransmitter in the brain called “acetylcholine.” Introducing nicotine into the body dupes your brain into thinking it has a surplus of these neurotransmitters on hand, which in turn causes a tobacco buzz.
A hefty portion of the tobacco buzz can be associated with nicotine’s ability to mimic dopamine. The “winning at life” sensation that is associated with dopamine can be encountered in many areas of life. From delicious foods and flavors, to sexual satisfaction or the sensation of winning big at a slot machine, that familiar feeling of pleasure and contentment is undeniably addicting for most people.
Sadly, dopamine’s influence tends to grow milder if experienced all too routinely, and it’s all your brain’s fault.
As with most stimulants, the human body gradually develops an indifference to nicotine when it is routinely introduced into the bloodstream. This has given cause for certain experts to cry foul over the claim that nicotine is habit-forming.
Their argument is that in order to get a buzz, frequent tobacco users must put a lot more nicotine into their systems than an occasional smoker. A scenario that has just as much to do with tolerance levels as it does with addiction.
Tobacco Nerd Note: When nicotine is present, the human brain releases fewer neurons and deactivates acetylcholine receptors, as neither is needed in large quantities. However, as the body becomes comfortable with nicotine’s presence, it becomes difficult for it to quickly restart the whole acetylcholine and dopamine production process.
Craving what should naturally be there, both body and brain scream for that “feel good sensation” when tobacco is taken away after extended use. This explains why the first couple of weeks of quitting “cold turkey” is so damn difficult for some people. It just takes time for the brain to switch gears and start producing acetylcholine and dopamine once again.
Nicotine and Cigar Size… Does it Count?
When it comes to nicotine, length and circumference/ring gauge really do matter. The more tobacco leaves contained in a premium cigar blend, the more nicotine-rich the smoke. It’s really that simple.
What’s not so simple is determining precisely how much nicotine is present in a particular cigar type, and how much of it the human body actually absorbs.
Commonly ensconced with paper and finished with a filter, the tobacco stuffed within cigarettes tends to provide a highly controlled (and consistent) nicotine experience. A premium cigar blend, however, is crafted solely from tobacco, and can be formed into any shape, size, or strength level imaginable.
Unlike lesser forms of tobacco products, premium cigars also undergo a lengthy fermentation process, which, contrary to common misconception, does not necessarily make a cigar “stronger.”
As stacked tobacco leaves slowly ferment in massive, H2O-soaked piles called “pilónes,” the nicotine within the vegetation slowly dissipates. This produces a smoking experience that is not only less abrasive upon the palate, but far more complex as well.
Does this make a cigar less habit-forming, especially when considering the fact that the garden variety cigar enthusiast inhales but a tiny fraction of the smoke produced by a long-filler stogie? That depends upon a sizable suite of factors.
A cigar size sporting a “Churchill” stamp on its side routinely offers the same amount of tobacco as an entire pack of cigarettes, all of which is intended to be burned in one sitting. Being that cigars are constructed entirely from tobacco leaves, this larger cigar type often packs anywhere from 100–200 mg of nicotine.
Viewed from a habit-forming standpoint, this offsets quite a few of those aforementioned fermentation and aging perks, even when nary a whiff of cigar smoke reaches the lungs.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Every premium cigar blend on the planet has its own unique recipe. This can be further augmented by the quality of the tobacco crop from a particular year, as well the length of fermentation implemented post harvest. Due to this fact, determining precisely how much tobacco is in a certain stick is very difficult.
So What About Small Cigars and Cigarillos?
Although small cigars and cigarillos may not pack as much tobacco as a full-sized smoke, nicotine yields per puff remain consistent across the board just as long as the grade of tobacco is the same.
For instance, shade-grown cigars tend to be milder both in flavor and nicotine content, as the upper leaves of the tobacco plant receive indirect sunlight. It is these upper “Ligero” leaves that pack the most nicotine too, as sunlight simultaneously increases the flavor, strength, and body intensity of tobacco. This is why sun-grown tobacco tends to be so much more intense on every level than shade-grown.
Another consideration that merits consideration are nicotine conversion levels, which, when it comes to cigar smoke, are all over the board.
Unless you are into chewing or snuff tobacco, combustion is mandatory for the delivery of nicotine to the body. Being that it is exceedingly uncommon for someone to hold tobacco smoke in their lungs for prolonged periods of time, the body’s nicotine absorption capacity is limited.
So while the average cigarette may have anywhere from 8–12 milligrams (mg) of nicotine, the selectively permeable filter that is the human lung only allows around 1–2 mg of the stimulant to be absorbed and sent to the brain. This absorption level is even less in a cigar, as its smoke does not typically come anywhere near the lungs.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Most smokers will exhale tobacco smoke anywhere from 1–3 seconds after drawing it into their lungs. This may not seem like a “lung time” (dad jokes strike again!), but these two organs are far superior to the larynx and mouth when it comes to delivering nicotine to the bloodstream. This explains why so many fledgling cigar smokers grow dizzy or ill when smoking their first cigar. Heavy puffing and frequent inhalation are only going to result in disaster, so keep that smoke upstairs if you know you want to truly enjoy that cigar.
While the days of tobacco products being prescribed as medicinal supplements are long gone, the relaxing act of smoking a particular cigar type and enjoying the nicotine contained therein is still very much a thing.
Since cigar smoke is purely an olfactory affair, very little of the nicotine within the adult product actually reaches the brain, as the majority of it quite literally goes up in smoke. Cigar smoking is far less frequent of an affair as well, which for many, gives just cause to the argument that hand-rolled cigars are not nearly as habit-forming as cigarettes and other inferior tobacco products.
Cigars are a luxury item. A product produced with relaxation in mind, and smoking pleasure serving as the primary intent, regardless of the nicotine content contained within each stick.
The level of enjoyment and contentment one feels from indulging in a premium cigar blend may vary from person to person, but the purpose remains the same. Cigars are intended to bring joy to people’s lives, which in our book, is precisely what positive mental health is all about, regardless of which cigar style you prefer.