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Cigars: The truth behind the glamour

Arnold Schwarzenegger. Demi Moore. Danny De Vito. More and more Americans are joining their ranks—not just posing with cigars but puffing on them, too. Sales of cigars have risen dramatically in the last decade, reflecting an alarming trend that puts smokers at risk for serious health problems.

Because cigar smoke is usually not inhaled the same way as cigarette smoke, many people mistakenly believe stogies to be a safer, less addictive alternative to cigarettes. But experts say that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The findings of one study point to cigar smoking as an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease. In other words, regular cigar smoking can raise a person’s risk of heart disease even if he or she is physically fit and active, has normal blood pressure and blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and has no family history of the disease. The researchers, who studied 1,546 male cigar smokers ages 30 to 85, found the risk for coronary heart disease—as well as lung disease—was highest in men who smoked five or more cigars a day.

Fact is, with regular use and inhalation, the heart- and lung-disease risks of cigar smoking are similar to those of cigarette smoking. After all, cigars contain the same toxins as cigarettes—chemicals such as carbon monoxide, benzene, benzo(a)pyrene and nicotine. And keep in mind that some premium cigars contain as much tobacco as an entire pack of cigarettes.

That said, it’s not surprising that smoking just one to two cigars a day carries significant health risks. It doubles the risk for oral and esophageal cancers and increases the risk for cancer of the larynx six-fold. Regular cigar smoking also affects the circulatory system, doubling the risk of hypertensive heart disease (heart muscle damage caused by high blood pressure) cardiomyopathy (enlargement and deterioration of the heart muscle) and aortic aneurysm (an abnormal widening of the artery).

Still think holding a cigar looks glamorous? Then stick to posing, not puffing. And spare yourself—as well as those around you—from the harmful effects of cigar smoke.