As noted in my last blog post (here), data presented in a recent FDA review of cigar health risks (here) showed that smoking up to two cigars per day, while not completely safe, is neither associated with significantly increased risks for death from all causes, nor smoking-related cancers.
Now we examine the FDA data regarding cigar-related circulatory and lung diseases. Here are the overall results:
|Table 1. Relative Risks for Mortality From Circulatory Diseases and Emphysema Among Men Who Smoke Cigars|
|Disease||Study, Year||Relative Risk (95% CI)|
|Coronary heart disease||Kahn, 1966||1.04 (0.96 – 1.13)|
|Carstensen, 1987||1.16 (0.84 – 1.57)|
|Ben-Schlomo, 1994||0.45 (0.17 – 1.22)|
|Shanks, 1998||1.05 (1.00 – 1.11)|
|Jacobs, 1999||1.30 (1.05 – 1.62) 1|
|Jacobs, 1999||0.93 (0.72 – 1.21) 2|
|Stroke||Kahn, 1966||1.08 (0.91 – 1.28)|
|Shanks, 1998||0.96 (0.87 – 1.06)|
|Aortic Aneurysm||Kahn, 1966||2.06 (1.32 – 3.07)|
|Carstensen, 1987||5.10 (1.33 – 13.19)|
|Shanks, 1998||1.76 (1.29 – 2.35)|
|Atherosclerosis||Kahn, 1966||0.97 (0.69 – 1.33)|
|Emphysema||Kahn, 1966||0.79 (0.25 – 1.86)|
|Carstensen, 1987||1.30 (0.00 – 7.45)|
|Lange, 1992||3.70 (1.10 – 12.00)|
|Shanks, 1998||1.42 (0.96 – 2.03)|
1Age 30-74 years
2Age 75+ years
Compared with never smokers, cigar smokers in most studies had no elevated risks for coronary heart disease, which is one of the most common smoking-related causes of death in the U.S.; the single exception was a subgroup of men, age 30-74 years, in the Jacobs study. Cigar smokers also did not have increased risks for two other frequent causes of death, stroke and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Aortic aneurysm – a bulge in the heart’s main artery – is the only disease risk that is consistently elevated in cigar smokers. It is a serious disorder but a distinctly uncommon cause of death; the mortality rate due to aortic aneurysm among those 45 and older dropped precipitously from 16 deaths per 100,000 in 2000 to 7.4 in 2014.
For men who smoke only one or two cigars a day, the health risks are even lower.
|Table 2. Relative Risks for Mortality From Circulatory Diseases and Emphysema Among Men Who Smoke 1 or 2 Cigars Per Day|
|Disease||Shanks, 1998||Other Studies|
|Coronary heart disease||0.98 (0.91 – 1.07)||1.00 (0.90 – 1.10)1|
|1.18 (0.76 – 1.82)2|
|Stroke||1.01 (0.88 – 1.17)|
|Aortic Aneurysm||1.82 (1.11 – 2.81)|
|Emphysema||1.39 (0.74 – 2.38)|
1Kahn 1966, fewer than 5 cigars per day.
2Jacobs 1999, 1 cigar per day.
No elevated risks for coronary heart disease, stroke or emphysema among men smoking 1-2 cigars per day. The only disease that was significantly elevated was aortic aneurysm.
The Take-Home Message for Cigar Smokers
Puffing and/or inhaling the smoke of burning tobacco is not without risks.
The FDA, which now regulates tobacco products, seems inclined to treat cigars the same as cigarettes. FDA staff wrote in their cigar study that “…cigar smoking carries many of the same health risks as cigarette smoking…We have observed that some risks associated with cigar smoking can be as high or higher than those associated with cigarette smoking, especially at the highest doses and levels of inhalation for cigar smoking.”
The problem with such a sweeping indictment is that it ignores scientific evidence and misleads cigar smokers who could substantially benefit from truthful harm reduction guidance.
Like any risky behavior, the degree of risk is proportional to dose and duration of exposure. In other words, risk is based on frequency of cigar smoking and the degree to which smoke is puffed and/or inhaled.