Is it possible to swallow a lit cigarette, then take it out and resume smoking?

Dear Cecil:

I knew a guy in college who could swallow lit cigarettes. Well, not really swallow them, but hold them in his mouth for what seemed like a pretty long length of time. He would then flip the cigarette back out and continue smoking. I have envied him all these years. It seems like a great way to pick up girls. How is it done? He used to say he had toughened up this inside of his mouth by chewing tobacco, but no one believed him.

Cecil replies:

Your friend was hip to an old magician’s trick, sometimes used in sleight-of-hand routines. The performer would appear to take a lit cigarette from his mouth, hold it out in his fist, and make it vanish. What he’d really do is flip the cigarette back in his mouth, gripping it between his teeth and his lower lip, and hold it there, hopefully out of harm’s way, until he was ready to reproduce it.

Unfortunately, that’s all there is to the trick. The rest requires practice and three crucial props: a big mouth, a strong stomach, and a short cigarette. Not to mention a fairly wide masochistic streak. Inhaling the smoke can be a fatal mistake: not only will you choke, but the cigarette will heat up to an unbearable degree. Learn to breathe through your nose. Not only is it safer, but pretty soon you’ll be able to talk like Rex Reed. Still, I feel duty bound to issue a Stern Warning to Youth. Don’t try it unless you have an asbestos tongue. Believe me, there are better ways of picking up girls–have you tried wiggling your ears? It never fails.

However, you may (or may not) be interested to know that in some parts of the world (one is tempted to call them backward nations, for reasons that will become obvious), cigarettes are routinely smoked in reverse. Among the lower classes in India, Korea, and some Caribbean island, it’s a common practice to put the burning tip of the cigarette in the mouth and draw air in through the unlit end. Again, the smoke is not inhaled, but blown back through the cigarette. In the Philippines, this peculiar custom is known as bakwe, and for some unknown reason it is practiced mainly by middle-aged married women. One earnest bakwe smoker told a correspondent for the Journal of the American Dental Association (apparently having no one better to unburden herself to at the time) that the main attraction of the habit is the delicious warming sensation it produces in the mouth, a tremendous boon during the rainy season.

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