Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Lungs

Are Cigars a Safe Alternative to Cigarettes?

Cigar smoking seems to be sanctioned by the U.S. media, according to researchers. This may be due in part to the image created by advertisements like the one shown in a 1992 Cigar Aficionado spot -- Cigar Smoker. Contrast this to an actual study conducted by Philip Morris in 1994 that profiled people who smoke non-premium cigars (complete PDF document 158K).

Profile of Cigar Smokers
Compared to cigarette only smokers, cigar smokers are more likely to:

  • Be younger: 45% of cigar smokers are between the ages of 18 and 24, vs. 29% of cigarette only smokers
  • Be students: 26% of cigar smokers are currently students, vs. 18% of cigarette only smokers.
  • Have lower Household Incomes: Cigar smokers' mean HH income is $29.4K, with almost half reporting incomes of less than $20K. Mean HH income for cigarette only smokers is $31.2K.
Compared to cigarette only smokers, dual cigar/cigarette smokers exhibit:
  • Slightly higher cigarette consumption: Cigar/cigarette smokers average 22 cigarettes a day, v. 19 for cigarette only smokers.
  • A slight skew towards Camel as their regular brand.
Over half the cigar smokers smoke a cigar at least once a week, with a full 20% reporting daily cigar smoking. The remaining 40% of smokers report smoking cigars once a month or less often.

The influence of others plays the greatest role in the smoker's decision to pick up cigars, 4 in 19 respondents cite a friend of family member as the reason they began smoking cigars.

Cigar smoking occurs most often in group events, such as gatherings with friends for parties or recreation.

Interestingly, a majority of cigarette only smokers interviewed by Philip Morris for this study reported they believed cigarette smoking was growing less popular (53%). A plurality (40%) of cigarette/cigar smokers felt this way.

Nevertheless, the media, Hollywood movies, continue to further the false perceptions about cigar smoking. "Print media coverage of cigars was unjustifiably favourable and failed to let the public know of the health risks involved," said Lynn Wenger of the University of California at San Francisco and the lead author of the report. In an analysis of nearly 800 magazine and newspaper articles on cigars, Ms. Wenger and her colleagues found that only 4 per cent focused on their health effects. And in articles that compared cigars with cigarettes, cigars were touted as more socially acceptable, less harmful to health or as containing fewer chemicals than cigarettes.
Source: American Journal of Public Health, March 2001

"I firmly believe that the relaxation that comes from smoking a cigar, when the smoke is not inhaled, will someday be proved to outweigh any of the small increases in health risks associated with it."

Publisher of the magazine, Cigar Aficionado

According to an article in USA TODAY, the rising popularity of cigars, and the belief that they are a safe alternative to cigarettes, has prompted scientists and health officials to look more closely at the health risks associated with cigar smoking.

Donald Shopland, National Cancer Institute (NCI), is compiling a monograph on the health risks of cigars due out early this spring (latest release - April 10, 1998). Shopland states that premium cigars have 15 to 20 times more tobacco than a cigarette, and smoking one cigar is like "smoking a whole pack of cigarettes."

In addition, cigars emit 22 times more carbon monoxide, a chief factor in tobacco-related heart attacks, than cigarettes. Because cigars are smoked longer than cigarettes, and cigar smokers tend to gather at parties or lounges, cigar smokers will be exposed to more harmful smoke and chemicals than cigarette smokers.

Source: USA TODAY, (2/23/98) "Safe Cigarette Alternative? No Cigar", Doug Levy, p. D10

To learn more about this question, local researchers interviewed healthcare professionals, cigar shop owners, and cigar smokers of all ages, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds.

These scientists reported a doubling of cigar consumption of boys aged 12 - 17 years, indicating a trend similar to that of spit tobacco. There are disturbing links between cigar smoking and alcohol consumption, and many advertisements are aimed at selling cigars to women as an elegant, sophisticated, independent lifestyle choice.

Female smokers are three times more likely to get lung cancer than male smokers.

female smoker

Cigar smoking is viewed by some experts as rebellious behavior directed at the public health initiatives of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

A slew of recent films, TV shows, and youth-oriented music have glamorized cigar use. Even President Clinton has been photographed chomping on a cigar while playing golf.

Cigars are NOT a safe alternative to cigarettes -- the facts are clear.

More on Cigar History

More Facts
The average cigarette contains about 1.1 milligrams of nicotine while the average cigar can boast anywhere from 10 to 400 times that amount.

Even if cigar smokers don't inhale, they are taking in nicotine, and people who switch from cigarettes to cigars tend to smoke cigars like they smoked cigarettes.

Some other interesting facts about the health hazards related to cigar use are:

  • The risk of lung cancer in those who smoke cigars is three times that of nonsmokers.
  • Cigar smokers have higher rates of mouth, tongue, throat, and voice box cancer than cigarette smokers. One study found that 90% of cigar smokers have precancerous changes in the cells of their voice box.
  • A cigar can produce more than twenty-five times as much secondhand smoke as a cigarette.

Source: DIRECT NEWS, New Mexico ASSIST Project, Fall 1997, Volume 3, Issue 3.

National Cancer Institute To Release New Report On Cigars
A National Cancer Institute (NCI) report on cigars found that cigar smoking can cause cancers of the mouth, esophagus, larynx and lung, as well as lead to increased risk of coronary heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The government could use the findings to impose new restrictions on the sale and marketing of cigars, which have been thus far exempt from strict regulations. Donald Shopland, coordinator of NCI's tobacco control program, said of the report, "This is the most comprehensive assessment of what we know about the health risks and trends of cigar smoking in this country."

The report is scheduled to be released by NCI next week.

Source(s):THE BALTIMORE SUN, (4/10/98) "Government Report Links Cigars To Lethal Ailments", Alec Klein

NCI Cigar Report Details Smoking Hazards
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) released the results of a report that found cigar use can result in cancer of the tongue, mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, and lung. The report, entitled "Cigars: Health Effects and Trends," notes that smoking even one or two cigars a day poses significant health risks.

The report also found that since cigars generate higher levels of second-hand smoke with more hazardous substances than cigarettes, non-smokers are also at risk. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Robert Pitofsky, who argues that cigars should be regulated in the same way as cigarettes, will petition Congress to pass legislation requiring warning labels on cigars. Current tobacco legislation before Congress from the Senate Commerce Committee lists cigars as nicotine-containing products to be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Donald Shopland, editorial director for the NCI project, compared the report to the landmark 1964 Surgeon Generals' report on the dangers of cigarette smoking, saying: "This report will define the disease risk of smoking for cigars, much as we defined the disease risk in 1964 for smoking cigarettes." Cigar sales have increased by 50 percent since 1993, with current sales of over 5 billion per year.

Source(s): WALL STREET JOURNAL, (4/13/98) "FTC Chief Seeks Cigar Health Warnings", Bruce Ingersoll, p. A2
USA TODAY, (4/13/98) "Unknown", Rita Rubin, p. D6
WASHINGTON POST, (4/11/98) "Cancer Institute Calls Cigars As Hazardous As Cigarettes", John Schwartz, p. A6
NEW YORK TIMES, (4/11/98) "Federal Warning On Cigar Smoking", Associated Press, p. A10


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