There are alternatives to tobacco cigarettes that are available, which include many types of herbal cigarettes.
What Are Herbal Cigarettes? *
Herbal cigarettes are simply any form of cigarette that does not contain tobacco. There are many types of herbs used to make a smoking blend for herbal cigarettes.
Some people use herbal cigarettes thinking they are a safe alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes. In this case, it is important to investigate the safety of smoking an herbal cigarette. The potential ill effects depend on the ingredients used in the herbal cigarette.
Are Herbal Cigarettes Safe? *
In general, there are always going to be some ill effects from smoking anything. It is simply not a natural process to inhale smoke. The first adverse reactions that might occur are irritation of the throat, sinus congestion, and respiratory problems. Allergic reactions are also possible.
Just because a cigarette is all natural, nicotine-free, tobacco-free, and/or has no additives does not make it safe. Moreover, things that are safe to eat are not necessarily safe to smoke. An in-depth article that appeared in Health Day points out that herbal cigarettes may be even more dangerous than tobacco cigarettes for the following reasons:
1. Some flavored cigarettes are not truly an herbal cigarette, such as clove cigarettes (also called “kreteks”) or bidis (hand-rolled cheap cigarettes imported from India, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia), because they also contain tobacco mixed with the herbs and flavoring.
It was easy for consumers to confuse these with herbal cigarettes due to the packaging, which sometimes, in the past, did not state any health warnings. The flavored ones were banned by the FDA from selling in the USA since 2009. They are still available in other parts of the world. Unflavored bidis still sell in the USA as a tobacco product and there are some herbal bidis sold that do not contain tobacco.
2. The smoke from herbal cigarettes contains tar and carbon monoxide. Smokers puff harder on herbal cigarettes to keep them lit, which means they may inhale more of these dangerous compounds.
3. Herbal cigarettes do not yet have heavy regulations like tobacco cigarettes, which means in some states they sell them legally to minors.
4. Many herbal cigarettes have candy-like flavors such as vanilla, cherry, grape, and strawberry that readily attract children. On September 22, 2009, the FDA banned all flavorings of tobacco cigarettes, except menthol, for this exact reason, yet flavored herbal cigarettes still sell in the USA legally.
Herbal Cigarette Brands Comparison *
All herbal cigarettes have the same health risks of inhaling tar and carbon monoxide as do tobacco cigarettes. These include respiratory problems from tar sticking to lung tissue and the poisonous effects of carbon monoxide.
Here is a list of some of the popular brands of herbal cigarettes, their ingredients, potentially deceptive advertising claims, and possible adverse reactions from smoking them:
(Note: All information in this section comes from information provided by the manufacturers and the product sales listings on Amazon.)
- Ingredients: Basil, bedellium, bishops weed, cinnamon, clove, gangal, liquorice, tendu leaf, and turmeric.
- Potentially Deceptive Claims: The website of the company shows the (dubious) health claims for eating the ingredients, not for smoking them. The package claims that clarity of the mind, throat, sense organs, and lightness of the head are features of correct smoking, based on some obscure writings from ancient Indian text.
- Known Dangers: The Western Journal of Medicine reports that smoking cigarettes containing cloves can cause bronchitis, hemorrhagic pulmonary edema, and pneumonia.
Billy 55 Green Tea
- Ingredients: Green tea from Vietnam.
- Potentially Deceptive Claims: Health benefits from drinking green tea, such as its anti-oxidant properties are touted as also occurring from the smoking of green tea.
- Known Dangers: There have not been sufficient scientific studies of the long-term effects of smoking green tea.
- Ingredients: Flowers from red clover flower, leaves from the marshmallow plant, petals from the rose bush, honey, and fruit juices. These herbal cigarettes come in the flavors of “blue,” cherry, chocolate, clove, ginseng, menthol, strawberry, and vanilla.
- Potentially Deceptive Claims: The manufacturer says these herbal cigarettes are a “natural way” to stop smoking and the advertising implies that natural flavors are somehow safer than chemical additives.
- Known Dangers: Natural clove flavoring, when smoked, creates eugenol. This chemical is a hepatotoxic substance, which may cause allergic reactions and damage to the liver. Natural vanilla also contains this chemical.
- Ingredients: Damiana, wild “opium” lettuce, catnip, passion flower, leaf of lotus, corn silk, licorice root, mint, menthol (for the menthol blend only), natural flavors, and plant essences.
- Potentially Deceptive Claims: The company website lists the therapeutic benefits of some of the ingredients that occur from ingesting them, as if the same effects occur from smoking them.
- Known Dangers: Like all herbal cigarettes, there are dangers from the tar and carbon monoxide inhaled. The effects of smoking the other ingredients are not yet sufficiently tested.
- Ingredients: Camellia sinensis, chrysanthemum, fructus momordicae, honeysuckle, lotus leaf, mulberry leaf, and purple perilia.
- Potentially Deceptive Claims: The manufacturer claims these herbal cigarettes are the highest quality in the world.
- Known Dangers: The effects of smoking these ingredients are unknown.
- Ingredients; 100% Artemisia leaves from Korea.
- Potentially Deceptive Claims: Claims to be the only herbal cigarette that is FDA-approved. The manufacture says that Artemisia stimulates the appetite and relieves indigestion.
- Known Dangers: A research study was not able to verify in published scientific studies, any health claims of this product or any other Asian-made herbal cigarettes making health claims.
- Ingredients: “Holy” organic basil and organic camellia sinensis.
- Potentially Deceptive Claims: The claims are this herbal cigarette is a detoxifier, has anti-aging effects, relieves jet lag, is stress relieving, cures the cold, causes rejuvenation, and is a throat cleaner.
- Known Dangers: Smoking these ingredients has not been tested.
- Ingredients: Herbs, tendu leaves, and natural vanilla.
- Potentially Deceptive Claims: Smoking this “bidi” style herbal cigarette is relaxing.
- Known Dangers: Smoking these ingredients needs further testing for safety.
- Ingredients: The ingredients are undisclosed, except to say that they use the leaves of vegetables and FDA-approved juices.
- Potentially Deceptive Claims: None.
- Known Dangers: There is not enough information given to access the risks.
Do Herbal Cigarettes Help with Quitting Tobacco Cigarettes? *
This is a controversial question. Some tobacco smokers state that substituting an herbal cigarette for a tobacco cigarette helps with the emotional need for an oral fixation and lowers the cravings that come from a disruption in the normal routine of the smoking rituals.
Others claim in a BBC News article that using herbal cigarettes only prolongs the misery of smoking and does not help stop smoking. It is possible that herbal cigarette use causes more smoking including smoking more tobacco cigarettes because herbal cigarettes do not to deal with the withdrawal symptoms from nicotine addiction.
Some think that herbal cigarettes are an easy “gateway” for youth to try and then the youth can become addicted to tobacco cigarettes thereafter.
Health Canada recommends against using herbal cigarettes as a substitute for a tobacco cigarettes, because of the dangers of inhaling any kind of smoke. This is why all herbal cigarettes in the USA and Canada have printed on the label, “Dangerous to health. Smoke contains tar and carbon monoxide.”
The Quit Smoking Community does not recommend smoking herbal cigarettes. They suggest using e-cigarettes instead, because e-cigarettes do not contain tar, ash, or have carbon monoxide in the vapor that is smoked. The physical sensation of holding an e-cigarette mimics a tobacco cigarette, just like an herbal cigarette does. Using e-cigarettes has the advantage over herbal cigarettes of being able to deliver nicotine. This allows a tobacco cigarette smoker to decrease the nicotine use over time. This advantage lowers the craving reactions that come up from sudden nicotine withdrawal.
Whether the use of herbal cigarettes as an aide in a smoking cessation program will work or not, depends on the specific person. Some find herbal cigarettes helpful. Anyone who is trying to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes will normally have to try multiple times before they finally have success.
The ones who eventually succeed in stopping the smoking of tobacco cigarettes usually try more than one method before they find something that works for them. With this in mind, there is a reason for using herbal cigarettes to help some people stop smoking.
Herbal cigarettes are not safe for long-term use. Children should not smoke herbal cigarettes under any circumstances. Manufacturers of herbal cigarettes are not always giving full disclosure of the product ingredients. The manufacturing process for herbal cigarettes is essentially unregulated. Most importantly, the long-term effects of smoking the ingredients contained in herbal cigarettes have not been sufficiently tested for safety.
There is a stark reminder of how an untested product was falsely advertised as safe. This is easy to see when reviewing the early advertisements by the tobacco industry using doctors to promote cigarette smoking as healthy. Because of this current lack of sufficient testing, caution is prudent regarding the health risks of smoking herbal cigarettes.