It is not uncommon for people who are just learning how to smoke a cigar to feel sick during their first smoking session. Nothing to beat yourself with, even old-time aficionados do get sick sometimes from smoking very strong cigars they are not accustomed to.

What causes cigar smoking sickness?

Simply put, nicotine overdose. A stick of cigarette contains around 1 milligram of nicotine. A large cigar (a torpedo or a Churchill for example) contains nicotine that’s equal to 2 packs of cigarettes or even as much as 400 milligrams of nicotine.
Ok, here’s the lowdown on nicotine. According to 3DChem.com, a leading authority on the composition and molecular structure of chemicals, nicotine is a naturally-occurring substance found in the tobacco plant. It is a “potent” nerve toxin and is actually a common ingredient in many insecticides!
Ingested in small doses, nicotine is a stimulant that affects both our central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. Depending on how much and how often you smoke, nicotine can both relax and invigorate a smoker. This “biphasic” effect of nicotine is not uncommon, according to Ann Meeker-O’Connell, an expert at How Stuff Works. This is also what makes the substance highly addictive.
Nicotine overdose (or poisoning) may cause “vomiting and nausea, headaches, difficulty in breathing, stomach pains and seizures, dizziness, lightheadedness, numbness in hands/feet/lips, headaches, double or fuzzy vision, dry mouth, hyperacidity, constipation, diarrhea, chest pains, shortness of breath, muscle twitching and spasms, dry mouth, and generalized weakness.”
Ok, that’s the worst of it so far. If you’re still with me, and you still want to learn how to smoke a cigar, let’s move along and see how you can avoid cigar smoking sickness or nicotine overdose.

James Yee, a leading expert on Cuban cigars, offers the following tips for cigar smoking beginners not to get sick from their first cigar smoking experience:

  • Don’t inhale – as we noted above, cigar smoke contain inordinate amounts of nicotine (compared) to cigarettes. When you inhale this smoke, the nicotine build-up in your blood stream becomes more rapid, and this will cause you to get sick. As I mentioned in our lead article “How To Smoke A Cigar,” you can still enjoy the aroma and taste of your cigar without inhaling the smoke.
  • Avoid getting smoke in your eyes or nose – Smoke from your cigar can irritate your eyes, makes you teary-eyed and uncomfortable, and according to Yee, “quicken your smoking pace.”

    It can cause your sinuses to “burn,” can invite a bout of coughing, and worse, you could inhale the smoke through your nose. Yee advises to lean back if you can in a comfortable reclining chair, so that the smoke wafting up don’t get to your eyes and nose.
  • Smoke on an empty/full stomach – Personally, I like smoking my cigar, after a meal or a light snack and many of the cigar smokers I know are also most comfortable with smoking with a full stomach. However, as Yee observed, some people just feel the opposite, and would enjoy their cigar best with an empty stomach. It’s up to you. As you progress along in your cigar smoking, observe how your body reacts and find your comfort zone.

  • Smoke outdoors – In my article on cigar smoking etiquette, I observed that it’s best to smoke outside, so as not to befoul your house with the tenacious smell of cigar smoke. Yee, explains, that smoking in tight, enclosed space with little or no ventilation is a cause of cigar smoking sickness.

  • Take your time – “Speed smoking” leads to cigar smoking sickness for many who are just learning how to smoke a cigar because this might cause you to inhale the smoke inadvertently. Smoke slowly, take your time. One puff a minute is just about right. Veteran aficionados can smoke 2-3 puffs per minute handily but I say a fine cigar is like your favorite gourmet dish, it’s best enjoyed when you take it in slowly.

  • Be relaxed – Cigar smoking is most pleasurable when you’re also relaxed while doing it. Try to find a cozy place in your house, in a patio or a deck, for instance, listen to your favorite soothing music. Smoking a cigar in a stressed uncomfortable environment like walking in 100 degree heat while playing golf, thirsty and half-dehydrated, just won’t cut it. Smoking a “powerhouse” cigar that way would certainly kick your butt.

  • Have a glass of ice water with your cigar – While most aficionados would enjoy their cigar with a glass of their favorite drink (scotch, cognac, espresso, etc), Yee explains that a glass of ice water can in fact “do wonders” for the beginner and make the cigar smoking more enjoyable. “Taking one or two sips between draws/puffs will make a cigar feel less strong as the water refreshes your palate. As a result, you should be able to smoke an entire cigar without getting sick.” He also cautions against alcoholic beverages as this might upset further a cigar-sensitive stomach.

I also find drinks like an ice cold 7up as having the same clearing effect as James glass of ice water. Perhaps, the most effective measure of preventing sickness for someone just learning how to smoke a cigar is sugar-loading. Of course, this won’t do if you have sugar-averse health conditions (like diabetes mellitus), but sugar is an antidote to nicotine overdose.

In fact, if you try to observe the old cigar smokers in the Caribbean, they carry cigar cubes with them and just pop one as soon as they start to feel a bit queasy from cigar smoking. You can ingest raw sugar when you feel like getting sick or, if you’re not comfortable with the idea, just sweeten your espresso a notch higher or have a sugary drink while you smoke.

Over time, as you mature from a beginner learning how to smoke a cigar to a veteran cigar smoker, you’ll also observe that you have progressively developed a high level of tolerance to nicotine. This is gradual, however, so beginners are better off following Yee’s advice and starting with the mildest cigars until they are able to handle the stronger ones. Even among veteran cigar smokers, an occasional unfamiliar cigar comes along that can bring out more than a light buzz.