The Results of the NASEM Study Are In...
Last week, a panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released their highly anticipated report “Premium Cigars: Patterns of Use, Marketing, and Health Effects.” This report is the largest and most comprehensive study ever commissioned to study premium cigars and their potential health effects. After reading the report, I believe it represents a major win for the premium cigar industry. The study validates several of the arguments that the Cigar Association of America (CRA) has put forth. It also suggests that more research is needed, and most importantly, it DOES NOT INDICATE any need for further regulation.
There is little data specifically on “premium cigars”
One of the biggest takeaways from the study is the recommendation for a formal definition of what “premium cigars” are. The panel used a working definition of what a “premium cigar” is, and they also referenced what the court defines as a “premium cigar.” In the end, they suggested creating a universal definition so that premium cigars could be studied further. While there have been plenty of studies on cigarettes and some studies on cigars in the past, for the most part, all cigars are lumped into the same category, and unjustly so. For example, most people inherently understand that Swisher Sweets, for example, are vastly different than a Davidoff Grand Cru.
The study indicates a clear difference between the risks associated with premium cigars and cigarettes
Reading the study, in all areas (patterns of use, marketing, and health effects) there are differentiators that separate cigars—and premium cigars, especially—from other forms of tobacco consumption. In previous studies cited, when available, there is even a difference between premium cigars and other types of cigars. Premium cigar smokers consume tobacco at a much lower frequency, inhale tobacco smoke at a vastly lower level, and consume their first “premium cigar” at a much older age. These factors indicate lower health risks when compared to other forms of tobacco. Previous studies have determined the same thing, with some even failing to find a statistically significant increased health risk when compared to non-smokers. The study goes so far as to say, “There is strong suggestive evidence that the health risks…are lower than those of daily cigarette smokers.”
Cigar smoking does not cause addiction for most people
A previous study stated that “the most important harmful effect of nicotine is the sustained use of combusted tobacco by causing addiction.” This is, quite simply, not an issue for the vast majority of cigar consumers. On average, cigar smokers reported smoking one cigar per day in the last 30 days—and fewer than five percent of cigar smokers smoke daily, and the median number of cigars smoked per day was 0.1. Additionally, it was reported that less than 10 percent of cigar smokers transitioned to other tobacco products. Only four percent of cigar smokers reported increased use frequency, and 20 percent reported an actual decrease in the frequency of use.
Premium cigars are not marketed to children
The study found that the average premium cigar smoker bought their first cigar at the age of 25. Only 0.8 percent of the U.S. population consumes premium cigars, and less than 0.1 percent of women and youths reported smoking a cigar in the last 30 days. Most cigars are marketed and sold in channels that are unique to premium cigars. The study goes so far to say that there is “strong evidence to suggest that premium cigars are typically purchased from cigar bars or tobacco specialty stores.” Obviously, these are not places that are frequented by children, and the industry has no motivation to change this. The study even states, “Evidence suggests that cigars are less likely to be used by youth.” Only 12.1 percent of youths surveyed believe cigars to be less harmful than cigarettes, as compared to 40.7 percent who believe e-cigarettes are less harmful.
Cigars are made with tobacco
The study does show that tobacco smoke contains several of the same potentially harmful chemicals as cigarettes smoke. The study, however, does state, “The level of exposure to specific HPHCs in premium cigar users will depend on how the cigars are smoked, including the frequency of smoking and depth of inhalation.” This is an important sentence because the study also found that premium cigar smokers smoke much less frequently and don’t inhale as deeply as people who smoke other forms of tobacco. I compare this to caffeine: The risks inherent in a cup of coffee are drastically different than those that come with caffeine pills. Stating that cigars are dangerous because of this goes against the rationale used in other products like aspirin, caffeine, and alcohol.
Let adults make their own choices
The entire reason this study exists in the first place is because the FDA sought to expand regulation to premium cigars as part of the Tobacco Control Act, which we’ve covered previously. As a result, the FDA was taken to court by the CRA and was expected to lose, which is why the FDA proposed this study before going further with their deeming rules. This study has found that “the frequency and quantity of cigar use for all cigar types has not totally changed” and is consistent with a 2013 study. The reasons for smoking have been stable over time as well, with the most common being that cigar smokers “smoke when socializing.” In the Tobacco Control Act, the FDA’s intent was to “reduce the death and disease toll caused by tobacco.” Currently, the FDA is accomplishing that mission by leaving premium cigars alone. The study even states, “There is strong supportive evidence that the U.S. population perceives cigar products to be harmful and addictive.” Despite being left alone by the FDA, use among adults is rare and stable, and youth consumption is almost nonexistent. In other industries, we are perfectly fine letting adults make their own decisions. I saw we should let adults make their own choices when it comes to cigars, as well.