Cigars 101

Retrohaling: The Nose Knows

Retrohaling* is the process of expelling smoke so that it passes through the nasal cavity and past the olfactory receptors on its way out of your body. To call it “exhaling” or “blowing” smoke out through the nose is misleading because cigarette smokers also exhale smoke through the nose. The confusion arises because exhaling is the opposite of inhaling. And yet, most cigar smokers do not (and should not) inhale cigar smoke. Retrohaling bypasses the lungs completely.

What it is retrohaling?

Cigar makers have long noted that the flavors in a cigar change dramatically when smoke is expelled through the nose as compared to the normal practice of releasing it through the mouth. Just as food cannot be fully appreciated without its aroma, neither can a cigar display all its wonderful nuances without the interplay between the senses of taste and smell. I have heard the president of one cigar company say that, “Unless you have blown smoke out through your nose while smoking a cigar, you have never really tasted the cigar.”

There is plenty of science to back up this assertion. Retronasal olfaction refers to sensations that arise from aromas that travel through the back of the throat into the nasal cavity. Channeling smoke up through the nasal cavity and expelling it through the nose bathes the olfactory receptors and drastically increases the number of aroma particles reaching the olfactory nerves.

Through retrohaling, cigar smokers can exploit this little known secret to provide themselves with a much fuller experience of a premium hand made cigar.

How to retrohale

To retrohale cigar smoke you first need to draw the smoke into your mouth, then close your mouth. With the smoke in your mouth and while holding your breath, open your throat and let the pressure in your lungs force the smoke out through your nose. It may help to use your diaphragm muscle to help you channel the air from your mouth through your nasal passage.

To visualize this experience, pretend you are submerged under water. While underwater, you are holding your breath and you want to let some of the air out of your lungs. You simply allow the pressure in your lungs to push air out of your lungs through your nose.

Developing this technique usually takes a bit of practice. Until you get the hang of it, it may help to blow out most of the smoke from your mouth (70-80%) before closing your mouth and attempting to open up the back of your throat to retrohale the remaining smoke.

Will retrohaling work for everyone?

Even if the technique of retrohaling is mastered perfectly, the amount of influence it will have on the flavor of a cigar will vary from person to person. For some cigar smokers, retrohaling will totally change the flavor of a cigar, while for others, it will have much less of an effect on flavor and may lead to only subtle differences. These variances are due to the structural differences of the organs of taste and smell from individual to individual.

Should I retrohale every cigar?

Unless you are a very experienced cigar smoker and have a lot of practice retrohaling, I would not recommend retrohaling on full-bodied cigars. The smoke from strong cigars can irritate your nasal mucosa leading to a very unpleasant, almost painful sensation during retrohaling. (Think of wasabi in your nose and you’ll get the idea!) I would recommend retrohaling mild or medium cigars first, and if you enjoy that and do not feel any irritation, then try it with a stronger cigar.

I personally retrohale every cigar, even full-bodied ones, but I will often moderate the amount of smoke that I retrohale. On full-bodied cigars, I blow out most of the smoke through my mouth and retrohale only the last bit.

Is retrohaling harmful to my nasal cavity?

If you are disposed to irritations of the nasal cavity such as allergies or sinus infections, I would recommend caution in trying to retrohale. If your nasal mucosa is overly sensitive, retrohaling may be very unpleasant and lead to further irritation.

Cigar smoking is not without risk; however, cigar smoke should be no more risky to the mucous membranes of the nose than to those in the mouth. The body’s mucous membranes are part of the immune system and serve to maintain the health of the underlying structures.


Retrohaling is the key to experiencing all that a cigar has to offer. Once mastered, retrohaling can open up a wide world of pleasurable flavors and aromas to the cigar smoker and enhance the enjoyment of a hand made cigar.

* In 2007, I coined the term retrohale to clearly identify and distinguish this practice and to provide a basis for understanding how the process works. The term retrohale* is a contraction of two terms: retronasal olfaction and exhale.

About the Author

David “Doc” Diaz is the publisher and the editor of Stogie Fresh Cigar Publications. He has served as an educator, researcher and writer and has taught in the Health Education and Health Science field for over 30 years. He possesses an earned doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Doc is a Certified Master Tobacconist (CMT), having received this certification from the Tobacconist University and is a member and Ambassador of Cigar Rights of America (CRA).