Health and Science

Cigars can be as deadly as cigarettes, FDA study says

The risk of dying from smoking-related disease is just as high for some cigar smokers as it is for people who smoke cigarettes, according to new findings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (Tweet This)

Researchers at the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products analyzed a group of studies from the latter half of the 20th century and concluded that cigar smokers are at risk of dying from a range of common smoking-related diseases, including heart disease, stroke and several types of cancer. Cigar smokers are also at risk of certain throat and neck cancers, suggesting they may be inhaling more smoke than they think.

A woman lights a hand-rolled cigar.
Justin Solomon | CNBC

"Mortality risks from cigar smoking vary by level of exposure as measured by cigars per day, and inhalation level and can be as high as or exceed those of cigarette smoking," the researchers said.

The team did a meta analysis of 24 studies done between 1966 and 2003 in the United States, Canada, the UK and three Scandinavian countries. The data showed cigar smoke significantly increased risk of death from several diseases, even including conditions not intuitively associated with smoke inhalation, such as stomach, liver and pancreatic cancer.

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Rates of various throat or neck cancers were higher among cigar smokers who did not report inhaling smoke, suggesting that cigar smokers are inhaling at least some smoke, even if they do not intend to.

"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 researchers wrote.

The Cigar Association of America, a trade group representing the industry, declined to comment on the study when contacted by CNBC.

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Cigars have dangers distinct from cigarettes. The researchers noted that cigar tobacco has been shown to contain different carcinogens than cigarettes have, owing to the way the former is cured and fermented. Cigar smoke has higher concentrations of toxic chemicals such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide than cigarettes does, according to research cited in the study.

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Cigar smoking more than doubled in the U.S. from 2000 to 2011, though cigarette smoking declined 33 percent over the same time period, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention that's cited in the report. The CDC said about 13.4 million people smoked cigars in the United States in 2010.

The researchers observed a few potential limitations to their research. First, there was the relative homogeneity of the respondents: Most were white men in North America and Europe who smoked cigars in the 1960s or earlier.

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The cigar market has also changed over the years; the type of cigar most studied was a larger cigar of a generally consistent shape. Today's cigar smokers buy cigars in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

Finally, the men in the studies smoked cigars regularly, so the results do not say much about how lower exposure to cigar smoke would affect the body.

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Allowing for those variables might produce a different set of results, the researchers wrote.

The group published its findings Thursday in the open access journal BMC Public Health.