THE BLOG
01/05/2016 03:53 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2017

Cigars Are No Better

By Drs. David Niesel and Norbert Herzog, Medical Discovery News

A common argument made by those who smoke cigars is that they are safer than cigarettes. However, several studies argue that this is not true.

Cigar smoking has increased dramatically in the U.S. Between 2000 and 2011, small cigar sales rose 65 percent and large cigar sales increased 233 percent. Americans smoked more than 13 million cigars in 2010, twice the number from 2000. About 13.4 million people age 12 or older smoke cigars. A cigar culture has arisen, with cigar bars or clubs, shops with walk-in humidors and magazines for those who consider themselves cigar connoisseurs. Their use among sports figures and celebrities has made it seem fashionable or sophisticated, a symbol of status or success.

The tobacco in cigars is cured and fermented to enhance the flavor, but this process also increases the amounts of harmful ingredients. Cigars come in three basic sizes, but the classic cigars are the large ones that contain more than half an ounce of tobacco, and some contain as much as an entire pack of cigarettes.

Just like cigarettes, cigars contain nicotine and can be very addictive. Most people who smoke cigars do not inhale, and therefore the nicotine is absorbed more slowly. However, cigar smoke dissolves more easily in saliva than cigarette smoke, enhancing the amount of nicotine absorbed. Smokers absorb one to two milligrams of nicotine out of the eight total milligrams in cigarettes. The large cigars contain anywhere from 100 to over 400 milligrams of nicotine, and the amount a person absorbs varies greatly depending on how long the cigar is smoked, how many puffs are taken, and how much smoke is inhaled. Second- and third-hand cigar smoke is dangerous, just like it is with cigarettes.

In one study, scientists measured the levels of two biomarkers for tobacco as well as arsenic and lead in over 25,000 cigar smokers. Cigar smokers had higher levels of these carcinogens than nonsmokers and equal levels to cigarette smokers. Overall, the study found that cigars are not safer than cigarettes. Cigar smokers are less likely to develop lung cancer than cigarette smokers, but they are at higher risks of developing other cancers.

Those who inhale while smoking cigars are more likely to develop laryngeal cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer and cancers of the tongue, mouth or throat than nonsmokers. Even those who don't inhale the smoke directly still inhale the secondhand smoke and are at an increased risk of lung cancer. Cigar smokers are four to 10 times more likely to die from cancers of the mouth, larynx and esophagus than nonsmokers.

Cigar smoking also increases the risk of other diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, gum disease and erectile dysfunction. One long-term study determined that cigar or pipe smoking costs people 10 years on average - they spent an extra five years in bad health and died five years earlier.

So before you take up cigars in an attempt to look cool, ask yourself if your image is more important than your health.

Medical Discovery News is hosted by professors Norbert Herzog at Quinnipiac University, and David Niesel of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com.