Contrary to popular belief, smoking cigars may be just as harmful to health as smoking cigarettes. This is according to a new study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

A man smoking a cigarShare on Pinterest
Researchers found that cigar smoking exposes users to similar types of harmful substances experienced by cigarettes smokers.

The research team, led by Dr. Jiping Chen, an epidemiologist in the Office of Science at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products, says their findings revealed that cigar smokers had much higher levels of toxic substances in their body than non-smokers.

Furthermore, cigar smokers had concentrations of a specific carcinogenic at levels comparable with cigarette smokers.

Although cigars can contain just as many toxic substances as cigarettes, many people believe they are less harmful to health. This is because – unlike cigarette smokers – cigar smokers are less likely to inhale the smoke.

According to the National Cancer Institute, cigar smokers are at lower risk of developing smoking-related diseases – such as lung cancer and heart disease – than cigarette smokers. The institute notes, however, that rates of these diseases are still higher among cigar smokers than non-smokers.

Since the number of cigar smokers is on the rise in the US – with rates doubling between 2000 and 2011 – Dr. Chen and his team set out to determine just how harmful cigars are to human health.

Using data from the 1999-2012 National Health Nutrition and Examination Survey (NHANES), the researchers analyzed 25,522 individuals for the presence of five substances in the blood or urine that indicate tobacco exposure.

Three of these substances – lead, cadmium and arsenic – can be found in environmental sources, as well as tobacco. The other two substances – cotinine and 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol (NNAL) – are only found in tobacco.

Results of the analysis revealed that, compared with non-smokers, cigar smokers had much higher concentrations of cotinine and cadmium in their blood and NNAL in their urine. This result remained even after the team accounted for current cigarette smoking status.

Cotinine – an anagram of nicotine – is a compound produced after nicotine enters the body and is classed as the most reliable measurement of tobacco exposure. Cadmium is an element that has been linked to a number of health conditions in humans – such as kidney disease, inflammation and respiratory diseases – while NNAL is a strong carcinogen.

It was even worse news for cigar smokers who had a history of cigarette smoking; they had higher cotinine and NNAL concentrations than cigar smokers who had never smoked cigarettes. The researchers say this finding supports previous studies suggesting that former cigarette smokers are more likely to deeply inhale cigar smoke.

Furthermore, the researchers found that individuals who smoked cigars on a daily basis had concentrations of NNAL in their urine comparable with that of daily cigarette smokers.

Based on the team’s findings, Dr. Chen concludes:

Cigar smoking exposes users to similar types of harmful and cancer-causing agents as cigarette smoking.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that secondhand smoke exposure may cause weight gain.