Is Rolling Your Own Cigarettes a Healthier Way to Smoke?
Weighing the Current Evidence
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
As of Dec. 20, 2019, the new legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.
Many smokers believe that rolling your own cigarettes is a way to cut back on smoking and/or avoid the harmful chemicals that are in commercially-produced regular filtered cigarettes. But there’s no such thing as a healthy smoking option, and hand-rolled cigarettes are no exception.
Basic Facts about RYO Cigarettes
Roll-your-own (RYO) cigarettes are hand-rolled cigarettes made with loose tobacco. Other names for RYO cigarettes include rollies, roll-ups, burns, and rolls. There are a few ways to make hand-rolled cigarettes, including using cigarette papers and loose tobacco or using rolling machines to make a uniform and more tightly packed cigarette.
Preformed cigarette tubes that can be filled with loose tobacco and smoked—both with and without filters—are also available.
Some common reasons smokers prefer RYO cigarettes include:
- Cost: A pouch of rolling tobacco and cigarette papers is much cheaper than buying brand name or generic cigarettes.
- Image: There is a perception in some social circles that people who roll their own cigarettes are “edgy” and non-traditional.
Many smokers assume that RYO cigarettes are “healthier” because they are more “natural.” The current body of evidence has shown that RYO cigarettes are just as risky to a smoker’s health as regular ones.
While it is true that roll-your-own cigarettes don’t contain the many thousands of chemical compounds regular cigarettes do, they do still contain additives and dangerous chemicals. RYO cigarette smokers inhale enough toxins to be concerned about, such as:
- Carbon Monoxide: Carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic byproduct of the incomplete burning of carbon-containing fuels. When breathed in, CO interferes with the body’s ability to carry oxygen. Cigarette smoke from any type of cigarette can contain high levels of CO.
- Nicotine: Nicotine is the addictive substance of cigarettes, and it is present in loose tobacco. It’s also a potent poison that has been used in pesticides for decades.
- Tar: Tar is the sticky brown residue that stains the end of a cigarette filter and other surfaces it comes into contact with. Tar also settles on delicate tissue in the lungs and bronchial tubes of smokers.
- Tobacco-Specific Nitrosamines (TSNAs): These are some of the most potent carcinogens in tobacco and tobacco smoke. TSNAs are present in green tobacco (unprocessed tobacco plant leaves) in small amounts, but it is the processing and curing of tobacco that causes high levels. These remain in loose tobacco.
Smokers tend to inhale more tar when smoking RYO cigarettes, due in part to the lack of a filter as well as the need to suck harder to inhale the smoke.
Researchers have studied TSNAs and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the urine of both traditional cigarette smokers and RYO smokers. These two groups of chemicals are highly carcinogenic byproducts of cigarette smoking and appear to be present in virtually the same quantities regardless of the type of cigarette smoked.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the U.S. anti-smoking organization Action on Smoking & Health (ASH), puts the differences between RYO and regular cigarettes into perspective: “A useful analogy that has been used is that arguing over the difference between roll-ups and straights is like arguing whether it’s safer to jump out of the 20th or 15th floor of a building—either way, you’re going to hit the ground and die.”
Scientists and doctors widely believe that the risks to a smoker’s health are the same regardless of whether you’re smoking commercially-produced cigarettes or rolling your own. Just like commercial cigarette smokers, people who smoke hand-rolled cigarettes face a risk of:
- Cancer of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Esophageal cancer
- Lung cancer
It’s difficult to assess the overall risk of RYOs because each hand-rolled cigarette is unique and the amount of tobacco will vary, as will how the cigarette is smoked. Also, some smokers use filtered tubes for their RYO tobacco and some don’t.
However, it is safe to say that RYO cigarettes are nothing remotely close to a healthy (or healthier) smoking choice.
RYO cigarettes endanger the health of anyone who smokes them, as well as those who breathe in the secondhand smoke they produce.
A Word From Verywell
If you’re still smoking any type of cigarette, consider quitting sooner rather than later. There are many tools and resources that can help you kick the habit, including support groups, quit aids, and counseling.
Moreover, under the Essential Health Benefits of the Affordable Care Act, the tools for quitting can be provided free of charge through your health insurance, including Medicaid and Medicare.
There's no such thing as a healthy smoking option, and hand-rolled cigarettes are no exception. Learn what they contain and the risks they pose.
Organic rolling tobacco
Since 1826 we have been manufacturing cut tobacco using only the finest tobacco leaves from several parts of the world. 4 generations of craftsmanship and recipes have taken Mac Baren products to where they are today – Roll Your Own tobacco proudly made to ensure exquisite quality and taste.
Mac Baren Roll Your Own tobaccos are a series of brands for smokers who prefer to roll their own high quality cigarettes. Brands that will satisfy all tastes – flavoured, non-flavoured, additive free and organic blends.
Explore the whole range of Roll Your Own tobaccos.
Amsterdamer hand rolling tobaccos are specially crafted to highlight different tobacco blends including American blends, a Dutch blend and an additive free blend. All blends offer a natural and pleasant smoking experience.
The Amsterdamer Ice is a range of hand rolling tobaccos which offer a combination of different flavours mixed with menthol. Amsterdamer Ice range delivers an exciting twist on the refreshing ice effect for every modern cigarette smoker.
Caporal has a long and proud history within pipe tobacco, perfect for those who prefer a traditional fine cut mixture mainly made of dark tobaccos.
Chee Tah, among other brands, was acquired in 2019, and offer several tobacco blends that will satisfy every adventurous consumer. Every blend has its own characteristic taste and is perfect for rolling. Enjoy the truly authentic experience of wild adventures while smoking Chee Tah tobacco.
CHOICE is a series of natural cigarette tobaccos which have been carefully enriched with different flavours. Years of experience is the key to our great success with adding taste to the tobacco, which ensures a refined and authentic smoking experience.
Django has a long and proud history and offers different tobacco blends for those who value quality in taste and enjoyment. All blends offer a pleasurable taste experience and are true delight for every cigarette smoker.
Excellent is a series of blends that have been carefully produced to satisfy different taste preferences. The tobacco varieties consist mainly of the finest Virginias from Africa and Latin America, light to dark brown Burleys from Africa balanced with fine spicy Orient tobaccos from Southeast Europe.
We have been manufacturing quality cut tobacco for more than 100 years. For People (#No Name) is for those who know what they want and who believe in quality, they can see and taste. For People (#No Name) tobaccos offer a quality Roll Your Own experience – nothing more and nothing less.
Mac Baren is a range of hand rolling tobaccos for smokers who prefer a classic Roll Your Own tobacco and who value good quality and taste. The tobaccos are made of the finest tobacco leaves from several parts of the world and blended to perfection. The tobaccos are treated carefully in the manufacturing process and finally packed in the gentlest way. We are proud to call it Mac Baren.
OPAL is a Make Your Own tobacco manufactured by traditional production principles that maintain the natural fullness and smoking time. With OPAL Make Your Own tobacco, you customize your own high quality cigarette by using an empty cigarette tube and fill it with tobacco with the help of a quick injector.
The Moro range offers traditional tobacco blends as well as aromatic blends. Acquired in 2019 Moro is a natural addition to our finecut product range, as our many years of experience manufacturing world known tobacco blends is key to our great success.
PL 88 offers several tobacco blends, gently manufactured to highlight classic taste of traditional cigarettes. All tobacco blends give their remarkable character to the final taste which offers a pleasant smoking experience. Enjoy the full range of PL88 tobacco which was added to our finecut product range in 2019.
Discover our offer of fine rolling tobacco and choose your favorite: flavored, additive-free and organic blends. Find more about Mac Baren products.