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Is Pipe Smoking Bad for You? Here’s How It Affects Your Health

You've likely heard that smoking cigarettes raises your risk for lung cancer, heart disease and stroke, but what about pipe smoking?

Like cigarettes, smoking a pipe can have serious health consequences. Here, experts discuss the similarities and differences between pipe and cigarette smoking and how tobacco use increases your risk for several diseases. You’ll also discover some scientifically sound tips for kicking your tobacco habit.

What is pipe smoking?

According to the National Center for Health Research (NCHR), pipe smoking uses fire-cured loose-leaf tobacco that is burned (lit) in a bowl. Cigarette smoking is similar and also uses loose-leaf tobacco, but it’s rolled in paper and burned.

The University of Rochester Medical Center explains that whenever tobacco is burned, whether in a pipe or a cigarette, it releases poisons and harmful toxins such as:

  • Cyanide
  • Lead
  • Arsenic
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Nicotine
  • Tar

Smoking a hookah or water pipe isn’t safe, either, according to the Mayo Clinic, because it contains tobacco that’s no less harmful to your health than cigarettes.

Pipe smoking effects on your health

There are thousands of chemicals in tobacco smoke -- including at least 70 that are known to cause cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. For this reason, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that burned tobacco is the most harmful form of tobacco.

Some people who smoke pipes don’t inhale or smoke as much as those who use cigarettes and therefore aren’t at as great a risk for health problems. However, OncoLink notes that smoking a pipe still puts you at a greater risk than nonsmokers for developing a number of serious diseases, including:

  • Oral (mouth, tongue and lip) cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Voice box (larynx) cancer
  • Cancer of the nasal cavity
  • Lung cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Lung disease
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), you also run a greater risk of having respiratory tract infections when you smoke tobacco -- including COVID-19.

What are early signs of oral cancer?

“There are several known risk factors that could increase your risk for developing oral cancer,” Mayo Clinic medical oncologist Dr. Katharine Price, explained in a video. “If you use any kind of tobacco -- cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and others -- you’re at a greater risk.”

The Mayo Clinic says to watch out for these early symptoms of oral cancer:

  • A reddish or white patch inside your mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Ear or mouth pain
  • A lump or growth inside your mouth
  • A sore on your lips or mouth that won’t go away

“If you’re experiencing any of these issues and they persist for more than two weeks, see a doctor,” Price advised.

How to quit pipe smoking

“Statistically, smoking shortens your life span by 10 to 15 years. But if you quit by age 30, you can recover almost all of them,” Dr. Maher Karam-Hage, a tobacco treatment expert and addiction specialist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Center, explained in a center article.

He also noted that when you stop smoking:

  • Your cancer risk falls by 50% after five years and is the same as a nonsmoker after 15 years
  • Your risk of having a heart attack is the same as a nonsmoker after four years

In addition, the benefits of quitting pipe smoking extend beyond your own personal health to those around you. According to the NCHR, health problems from secondhand smoke alone have caused 2.5 million deaths since 1964.

So how exactly do you stop smoking, especially when the nicotine is so addictive? Here are four scientifically backed strategies.

Deciding to quit

OncoLink explains that deciding to quit is about making a plan to optimize your success. For example, you can write down your reasons for quitting and post them in a place where you’ll see them every day or decide on the tools you’ll use to help you through withdrawal symptoms.

Medications

Nicotine replacement therapy such as patches, lozenges and gums can help reduce your nicotine cravings, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as can two FDA-approved medications called bupropion (Wellbutrin) and varenicline (Chantix).

Therapy

Cognitive behavioral and group therapy can both assist with understanding why you smoke, help you change your behaviors and provide support along your journey, according to the NCHR.

Acupuncture

The Cleveland Clinic and the NCHR both say that acupuncture targets the nerves in the ears, which may help support you through nicotine withdrawal.

If you’d like more tools to assist with quitting pipe smoking, you can visit Smokefree.gov.

References

National Center for Health Research: Smoking Pipe Tobacco: Exposure and Health

National Center for Health Research: Smoking Cessation Aids: What Are Your Options?

University of Rochester Medical Center: Cancer and Tobacco

Mayo Clinic: Quit Smoking

Mayo Clinic: Mouth Cancer

American Cancer Society: Harmful Chemicals in Tobacco Products

FDA: Pipe Tobacco

OncoLink: Cigar and Pipe Smoking and Cancer Risk

OncoLink: Quit Smoking: The Basics

American Medical Association: The latest on smoking cessation: 8 things physicians should know

MD Anderson Center: What happens to your lungs from smoking? 3 things to know

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Quit Smoking Medications Work

Cleveland Clinic: Want to Quit Smoking? Acupuncture Can Help You with Cravings

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