The evidence on cigar-smoking

cigarOver the past decade, cigar consumption in the United States has increased significantly.  In 2011, Americans smoked an estimated 13.7 billion cigars, a 55 percent increase compared with 2000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Cigars may be trendy, but they pose serious health risks. A new systematic review published this week takes a look at the evidence available on cigar-smoking.

The review includes a total of 22 epidemiological studies from 16 different groups of people. Participants were classified by whether they smoked cigars currently or previously, and whether they smoked cigars along with cigarettes and pipes.

Those who primarily smoked cigars without a history of smoking cigarettes or pipes were more likely to suffer from a wide range of cancers – oral, esophageal, pancreatic, laryngeal and lung – compared to non-smokers. They were also at higher risk for coronary heart disease and aortic aneurysm, when the body’s largest artery experiences a bulge that may burst.

Participants who smoked cigars more frequently and inhaled more cigar smoke had a higher risk for developing cancer.  But those who reported that they did not inhale were still at a higher risk for oral, esophageal, and laryngeal cancers compared to non-smokers.

The authors of the study do recommend more research on the health effects of cigar smoking. For example, the studies in the review include cohorts beginning in the 1950s to 1980s. But additional studies with more contemporary and diverse participants would provide evidence on the current patterns of cigar use.

While more data would be helpful, the data we have today is clear: cigar smoking carries many of the same health risks as cigarette smoking. Even when cigar-smokers to not inhale, their risk of developing cancer is significantly increases.

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