Apples and Oranges?
People have been using pipes to smoke tobacco for hundreds of years. Pipe smoking has remained a prominent part of our idea of tobacco, even through the practice has been declining in popularity.
Many of us associate pipe smoking with either old-fashioned intellectuals, grizzled old timers or quirky hipsters. But, despite the many associations that pipe smoking has, there is plenty of confusion about the activity with some people referring to pipe smoking as the healthier alternative to cigarettes.
But in reality how does pipe tobacco when compared to cigarettes or cigars? Is it just as addictive or just as dangerous? While there hasn’t been as much research into the health risks of pipe smoking compared to cigarettes, there has been enough to show just how dangerous pipe tobacco can be.
Pipe Tobacco, Nicotine and Addiction
The popularity of pipe smoking varies around the world. In the UK pipe smoking has been declining in popularity for a couple of decades, but pipe smokers remains an active group that gets less attention and information than cigarette smokers.
The tobacco used in pipes is loose leaf, often fire-cured and the practice originated in South America. Fire-cured tobacco is hung in barns where burning wood is kept at a low smoulder to produce heat. This process takes around a week and produces tobacco that is low in sugar and high in nicotine.
Pipe tobacco has a focus on strong, aromatic flavour and flavourings are added to help give it a distinctive, rich taste.
Pipe smokers usually don’t inhale the smoke into their lungs during smoking like cigarette users do. Instead the smoke is taken into the mouth and circulated around the oral and nasal cavities where various chemicals are absorbed through the mucous membrane before the smoke is released.
The tobacco used with pipes contains nicotine, just like smokeless tobacco and the tobacco in cigarettes. This chemical is the main reason why smoking is so addictive. Pipe tobacco usually contains high levels of nicotine witch is absorbed into the bloodstream through the lining of the mouth and nasal cavity.
Pipe Tobacco and Health Issues
Because pipe tobacco is smoked differently to cigarettes, with smoke drawn into the mouth instead of inhaled into the lungs, there are some who claim that it is much safer. However, research has shown that smoking pipe tobacco carries a variety of health risks including cancer, heart disease, stroke and death.
Because smoking a pipe is less popular than cigarettes, not as many studies into the health effects of pipe tobacco have been carried out in recent years. But what we do know about the dangers suggests that pipes still carry high risks.
Burning any form of tobacco produces thousands of chemicals including many which can cause health problems. These chemicals include hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, arsenic, ammonia, carbon monoxide, benzene and many more
As well as staining teeth and causing mouth and gum sores, pipe tobacco can also cause leukoplakia. Leukoplakia takes the form of grey-white patches in the mouth that can develop into cancer over time. Usually painless, these patches are sometimes mistaken for sores.
Smoking a pipe is also associated with a high risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and heart disease.
Pipe smokers have a lower chance of developing lung cancer compared to cigarette smokers. This is because of the way pipes are smoked. But that doesn’t mean that pipe smoking is free from the risk of cancer, in reality they are still very dangerous.
Like all tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco increases the risk of cancer in those who use it as well as second hand smokers. The cancers associated with pipe smoking include colon, oesophagus, larynx, lung and pancreas. And pipe smokers also have and increased chance of dying as a result of smoking related cancer.
As smoking a pipe involved drawing smoke into the mouth and nasal cavity, it should be no surprise that research has shown high rates of cancer in those locations. Mouth, lip, tongue and throat cancer have been observed in pipe smokes and the tobacco used in pipes also carries a higher risk of oesophageal cancer.
Pipe Tobacco Compared To Cigarettes
When it comes to the experience and the health risks, pipe smoking is often compared to cigarettes. And while cigarettes became far more popular than pipes, there are still many out there who consider pipe smoking superior and claim it to be the safer of the two. But, as we already know, pipe smoking is far from safe.
Smoking a pipe carries the same risk for a variety of smoking related diseases, including heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and cancers like colon, larynx and pancreatic.
The biggest difference between pipes and cigarettes is how the smoke is taken in. With cigarettes the smoke is often inhaled into the lungs, sometimes deeply while pipe smoke is usually drawn into the mouth and circulated around the oral and nasal cavities before being released. This makes pipe smokers less prone to lung cancer and lung disease compared to cigarette smokers, but more prone to oral cancers and leukoplakia.
Contrary to some popular misconceptions, pipe tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes. Although pipe tobacco doesn’t carry all the same risks as cigarettes, there are still plenty of dangers, including health problems that are more likely in pipe smokers than regular smokers.
Smoking a pipe still carries the risk of cancer, heart disease and other serious illnesses, just like regular cigarettes as well as Leukoplakia and gum sores.
Smoking pipe tobacco releases the same harmful chemicals as cigarette smoke as well as high levels of addictive nicotine. This means that pipe smoking is far from safe and still an addictive and harmful alternative to cigarettes. The only way to truly remove the dangers of smoking is to quit smoking altogether and nicotine replacement therapies like patches and e-liquids have been shown to help considerably.