Cigars Ignite Health Concerns

Cigars are gaining popularity among a new generation of smokers, but a research study in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine finds they are not a healthy alternative to cigarettes.

The study found cigar smokers face a greater risk of coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and various cancers than non-smokers.

Reseachers found the risk of contracting one of the illnesses was "dose related," meaning the more cigars smoked, the higher the risk of contracting a frequently deadly ailment.

"The resurgence of cigar smoking in recent years is a matter of substantial concern," said Dr. Carlos Iribarren, who headed the study at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Oakland, Calif.

The study involved 17,774 men aged 30 to 85. A total of 1,536 subjects smoked cigars, while 16,228 did not. The researchers followed them from 1971 to 1995 until the men were hospitalized or died.

Twenty-seven percent of the cigar smokers showed a higher risk for heart attack and stroke. Forty-five percent were more likely to get lung disease.

The cigar smokers were classified on the basis of whether they smoked fewer than five cigars a day (76 percent), five to 10 cigars daily (17 percent) or more than 10 cigars (7 percent), the researchers said.

"Cigars are not a safe alternative to cigarettes. Even if you don't inhale there are some serious health consequences if you smoke cigars," Iribarren said.

Researchers found an increase in cancer risk for those who also drank alcohol. Because of these findings the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher is pushing for government warning labels on all cigars, reports CBS News Correspodent Elizabeth Kaledin.

"It is a serious public health threat because there has been a dramatic increase in cigar smoking, Satcher said.

Cigar sales in the United States have increased nearly 50 percent between 1993 and 1997, even as cigarette consumption declined by 3 percent for the same period. Iribarren's team also found sales of large "premium" cigars increased by 68 percent, reversing a 20-year decline.

Those who smoke cigars are "relatively well-educated people who have traditionally eschewed cigarettes," noted Satcher in an editorial accompanying the report.

Cigar smoking has become wrapped in the mystique of fine coronas, finer cognac and fast cars. The resurgence in the popularity of cigar smoking has lead to an explosion of cigar bars in U.S. cities and an increase in sales, experts noted.

Satcher said the study showed the "popularity of cigar bars where both cigar smoking and alcohol consumption are encouraged arouses special concerns with respect to the public health."

Satcher also urged that cigar makers be required to report annually all of the ingredients added to tobacco in their products to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Cigars contain at least four thousand different chemicals t least 60 of which we know are carcinogenic," Satcher said.