Cigar smoking in the United States has doubled in the past decade from 6.2 billion cigars in 2000 to over 13.7 billion in 2011. At the same time, cigarette use has dropped by 30 percent. Hopefully, it’s not because Americans think they’re protecting their health by switching from cigarettes to cigars. A recent study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found that smoking cigars is just as dangerous as cigarette smoking and leads to just as many fatal conditions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one large cigar usually contains around one-half ounce of aged, fermented tobacco. That much tobacco is equivalent to an entire pack of cigarettes. Approximately 13.4 million people in the U.S. were current cigar users in 2012. Although cigar smoking in the U.S. is often attributed to older men, increased marketing of flavored cigars or cigarillos has led to increased use among the younger generation.

Research from the CDC revealed that four out of every 10 middle- to high school-aged Americans reported smoking a flavored cigar in 2011. Although the FDA issued a ban on flavored cigarettes back in 2009, flavored cigar brands, such as Black & Mild and Swisher Sweet do not fall under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

"The results reinforce the fact that cigar smoking carries many of the same health risks as cigarette smoking,” lead researcher from the FDA Cindy Chang said in a statement. “Cigar smoking is linked to fatal oral, esophageal, pancreatic, laryngeal, and lung cancers, as well as heart disease and aortic aneurysm.”

Chang and her colleagues combed through 22 studies from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland that focused on cigar smoking, smoking-related mortality, and all-cause mortality. The studies focused primarily on white men from North America and Europe in the 1960s or earlier. Researchers assessed the health risks for cigar smokers and compared them to people with no history of cigarette smoking or people who have never used tobacco.

People who smoked only cigars and had never smoked any other tobacco products still stood a higher risk for all-cause mortality. Risk for death caused by oral, esophageal, and lung cancers increased significantly after a person started smoking cigars, even if they reported not inhaling cigar smoke. People who smoked cigarettes before picking up cigars were at a significantly higher risk for lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) compared to those who smoked cigars exclusively.

Source: BMC Public Health. 2015.