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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Warning: Third-hand Smoke

Sept. 5, 2014

By Medical Discovery News

Smoke

Science has long proven that smoking is bad for you and those around you, with 90 percent of lung cancer cases caused by smoking. Even second-hand smoke is dangerous enough to warrant banning smoking in public places. The idea of third-hand smoke premiered in 2009, and scientific evidence shows that it too can harm human health.

Third-hand smoke is the many toxic compounds from tobacco smoke that settle onto surfaces (particularly fabrics) such as carpet, furniture, and the inside of a car. Researchers have identified chemicals in third-hand cigarette smoke called NNA and NNK that can bind to DNA, a person’s genetic information, and cause damage and mutations that could lead to cancer.

There are 4,000 known pollutants in cigarette smoke including a large number that cause DNA damage. Many of them have been found in the carpets, walls, furniture, dust, clothing, hair, and skin of smokers long after they’ve smoked a cigarette. The pollutants from smoke can accumulate over time, making the environment increasingly toxic. Mainstream smoke has more than 60 known carcinogens, which cause cancer, and other toxins, many of which are present in second- and third-hand smoke. Nonsmokers are exposed to these toxic compounds when they inhale, touch, or ingest them off of surfaces containing third-hand smoke. To make matters worse, some of the smoke residue can undergo a chemical transformation into secondary compounds when it interacts with other indoor pollutants, like ozone and nitrous acid. For example, nicotine reacts with ozone in the atmosphere to produce byproducts and ultrafine particles that can trigger asthma attacks.

Other secondary products such as NNA and a related compound called NNK are also formed. A recent study aimed to discover what level of third-hand smoke mutagens and carcinogens a nonsmoker might be exposed to in realistic scenarios, and whether these levels would be high enough to cause damage to DNA or other adverse effects. Unrepaired DNA damage can lead to mutations and increase the risk of developing cancer. They concluded that human cells exposed to third-hand smoke or secondary compounds had increased DNA damage within 24 hours. These results provide evidence that third-hand smoke does include carcinogens from cigarette smoke and the environment. The study also showed that NNA and NNK have damaging effects on developing lungs, making them particularly harmful to infants.

Smokers themselves are giving off third-hand smoke toxins, so going outside to smoke helps but is no solution. It is unclear how long toxic third-hand smoke compounds continue to be a risk. Depending on the compound, they may linger for hours, days, weeks, or longer. When smokers quit they should take steps to rid their homes and vehicles of third-hand smoke. This is potentially a time-consuming and expensive proposition but it is worth doing.

In 2011, 44 million American adults smoked cigarettes and 34 million of them smoked every day. Smoking causes one in five deaths, killing nearly 500,000 people in the U.S. every year. That is more deaths than HIV, illegal drugs, alcohol, motor vehicle accidents, and firearms combined. Is it really worth it?

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