A new FDA study finds that cigar smokers have higher levels of known or suspected carcinogens in their blood and urine than people who do not use tobacco products.  The study is significant because there have been few studies looking at the toxic constituents of cigar smoke and their intake in the body.  It has long been thought that cigar smoking was “safer” than cigarette smoking, but this new study raises more questions about the health consequences of cigar use.

The study, Biomarkers of Exposure among U.S. Cigar Smokers: An Analysis of 1999–2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) Data, was conducted by Office of Science, Center for Tobacco Products, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Silver Spring, Maryland. The study reported that not only do cigar smokers have higher levels of cotinine, NNAL, cadmium, and lead in their system than nonusers, but individuals exposed only to second-hand cigar smoke had elevated levels as well.

Cigar smokers have higher concentrations of several toxic and carcinogenic substances than nontobacco users.  Our results are consistent with epidemiologic evidence demonstrating cigar smoking as a cause of disease and premature death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), while the consumption of cigarettes decreased significantly from 2000 to 2011, cigar and loose tobacco use increased over 120% in that same period. A 2006 Public Health Report analyzed the data and statistics available at the time and attempted to explain the increased use.  The American Academy of Family Physicians similarly addressed the trend in 2012 noting that because cigars were taxed at a lower rate, they were considered a “lower cost” alternative to other tobacco products.

According to the American Cancer Society, cigar smokers who inhale have an 11 times greater risk of death from lung cancer than non-smokers, and are at increased risk for other types of cancer:
39 times more likely to die from cancer of the larynx;
7 times more likely to die from tongue, mouth, and/or throat cancer;
4 times the risk of death from bladder cancer; and
3 times the risk of death from cancer of the pancreas.

Besides the obvious public health implications, the results of this study are significant for cancer-related toxic tort and product liability cases involving cigar smokers, and those exposed only to secondhand cigar smoke.  For more information from the American Cancer Society about cigar use and its effects, click here.  The CDC’s fact sheet regarding cigars can be found here.