While there are plenty of people who “only smoke weed” and wouldn’t dream of smoking tobacco, for some, the two habits may be intertwined. For teens who start out smoking blunts, a new study suggests they could be the ‘gateway drug’ to another kind of smoke.
Blunt smoking could lead to cigar smoking, and vice versa, according to the paper. (A blunt, by the way, is when someone takes a cigar wrapper, removes all the tobacco and fills it with marijuana instead.)
In a sample of 1,825 teens living in the United States, teenagers who smoke blunts are 22 times more likely to later start smoking cigars, compared to teens who have never smoked at all.
If that number seems exceptionally high, consider — a very small number of teens reported either habit. Blunts were more popular than cigars, with almost double the number of teens reporting smoking blunts at baseline. Overall, 14 percent of the teens reported smoking blunts, while only 8 reported smoking cigars.
But while overall numbers may be low, study author and University of Pennsylvania researcher Janet Audrain-McGovern says the transition between the two habits is concerning.
“Research indicates that almost two-thirds of adolescents who smoke blunts also report using cigars,” Audrain-McGovern tells Inverse. “We hope to bring attention to the use of cigars and blunts among adolescents, and that the risk of using one product poses a risk for the use of the other product.”
The results were published this week in JAMA Network Open.
Are teens actually into cigars?
Not a lot of teens are smoking cigars. Of teens that do seek out a nicotine fix, most are using e-cigarettes. About 27.5 percent of of high school students vaped in 2019, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. Interestingly, cigars are more popular than cigarettes — 7.6 percent of teens nationwide smoke stogies.
Cigar companies have been chastised for marketing to teens, especially African American teens. Swishersweets, a cigar brand, has sponsored concerts by rappers like Machine Gun Kelly. Meanwhile, teen heartthrob Nick Jonas, 27, became the youngest person ever to grace the cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine earlier this year.
If teens, swayed by marketing or something else, do start out smoking cigars, it could result in an increase in the frequency blunt smoking, too, the study suggests. Over a six-month period, teens who had started out on cigars increased days of blunt use by 38 percent, according to the results.
If teens start smoking blunts first, changing use over time isn’t as apparent. While they were 22 times more likely to smoke cigars, their use of cigars over time didn’t change much — by just 8 percent, the study finds.
Blunts and cigars — what’s the connection?
The results don’t explain why one habit might lead to the other, but Audrain-McGovern has a few ideas.
There are significant amounts nicotine in the fermented tobacco leaves that make up a cigar’s wrapper — those wrappers are used for blunts as well as stogies. One analysis found that, in five cigar wrappers often used for making blunts, there were nicotine concentrations ranging from 1.2 to 6 mg per cigar. That’s less nicotine than in a JUUL pod, but similar to the 1.1 mg to 1.8 mg in an average cigarette.
It may be enough nicotine to create a craving, and that might lead teens to embrace cigars.
“There are data in adults that indicate that co-use of nicotine and cannabis is linked to dependency on both substances,” Audrain-McGovern says.
A cigar may also offer a flavor dimension that draws teens in, from vanilla to cognac. Flavoring is often cited as a major reason teens take up vaping, and this could also be the case for teens transitioning from blunts to cigar use, she says.
Whether it’s the appeal of your favorite popstar holding a cigar, or the habituation of smoking a blunt that makes a stogie seem more appealing, the research suggests that blunts may impart far more than a marijuana high. They could leave teenagers craving a different sort of buzz.
Main Outcomes and Measures: Progression to current cigar use (use in the past 30 days)and escalation in the frequency of use (number of days used in the past 30 days) across the subsequent 24 months.
Results:Of 1825 participants, 907(49.7%) were female, 1330 (72.9%) were white, and 376 (20.6%) were Hispanic; the mean (SD) age at baseline was 14.38 (0.55) years. In all, 257 participants (14.0%) reported ever blunt use. Mixed-effects models revealed that ever blunt use at baseline vs never blunt use was associated with progression to current cigar use (past 30 days use: odds ratio, 22.66; 95% CI, 11.34-45.27) but not escalation in the number of days used across the following 24 months (β = 0.13; 95% CI, −0.17 to 0.43).
Conclusion: These findings highlight the risk that blunt use may pose for subsequent cigar use among adolescents. Policies and public health campaigns addressing marijuana as well as cigars will be important to reduce adolescent blunt use and cigar use.