Cigars Are No Better

May 15, 2015

By Medical Discovery News

Person smoking a cigarette

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 them 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.

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An Aspirin A Day

March 29, 2013

By Medical Discovery News

New research shows that aspirin truly deserves its nickname as the wonder drug, since now it even helps fight cancer. It’s naturally found in willow bark, which has been used as herbal medicine for thousands of years. People have been taking aspirin in its current for over 100 years.

Ancient Greeks used ground willow bark to treat fevers and control pain during in childbirth. Then, in the early 1800s, English physicians and scientists wanting to discover the key to willow bark’s effect isolated its active component, salicin. In 1890 a German chemist named Friedrich Bayer (sound familiar?) created a synthetic salicin molecule called acetylsalicylic acid. This derivative was less irritating to the stomach than willow bark and became the modern form that lines drugstore shelves. 

Since then, researchers have been finding even more medical uses for aspirin. In the 1960s, scientists began exploring aspirin’s ability to thin blood and tested its usefulness in preventing heart disease. To summarize many extensive clinical trials, it is now generally believed that taking low-dose aspirin on a daily basis helps reduce the chances of a second heart attack (but not the first) in men. But these studies also revealed some negative side effects of regular aspirin use, including bleeding ulcers and hemorrhaging retinas. 

Recent studies may have uncovered another, quite wonderful, effect of aspirin – reducing the risk of some common cancers. Initial studies found the occurrence of colorectal cancer was lower in those who took aspirin regularly. These studies followed individuals who took aspirin for its cardiovascular benefits, but also ended up decreasing their risk of developing certain tumors by almost 40 percent. And low-dose aspirin also appeared to reduce the spread of tumors in people with established cancer.

In a 2010 British study, those taking daily aspirin for at least five years reduced their risk of dying from colorectal, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, brain, lung, and prostate cancers by more than 20 percent. These studies also cited issues of bleeding in the stomach and retinas, especially in older individuals. New guidelines for aspirin therapy suggest starting an aspirin regime at age 50 and stopping by age 70 in order to reduce this risk.

Several properties of aspirin might explain its cancer-fighting abilities. Aspirin inhibits enzymes called cyclooxygenases or COX, which normally convert a type of fatty acid into compounds that protect the stomach lining. This may be why aspirin can lead to stomach irritation, but may also explain why aspirin works well as an anti-inflammatory, since COX can contribute to inflammation. And preventing inflammation also prevents the growth of tumor cells.

Given its ability to combat the nation’s two most serious killers, the potential for expanding low-dose aspirin therapy looks positive. Overall, these results have scientists on the verge of declaring aspirin the first “general anticancer drug.” Of course, individuals should consult their physician before starting any drug regime. 

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