• 5/10/2004
  • NEW YORK , NY
  • Reuters Health

Puffing on one cigar may be enough to harden the body’s main artery for hours afterward, a small study shows. Researchers say the findings add to evidence that, far from being a “safe” alternative to cigarettes, cigars increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study of 12 healthy men who smoked cigarettes and cigars found that shortly after smoking a cigar, the men showed evidence of greater stiffness in the aorta, the main artery carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The degree of stiffness in large arteries is key in how well the heart’s main pumping chamber can work and blood can flow. The new findings provide the first evidence that cigar smoking immediately increases stiffness in large arteries, according to the study authors, led by Dr. Charalambos Vlachopoulos of Athens Medical School in Greece. They report the findings in the American Journal of Hypertension.

Tobacco use in its various forms has long been known to carry serious health risks. Yet there’s been a popular perception that cigars, which enjoyed a surge in popularity starting in the 1990s, offer a safer way to smoke. But research shows that cigar smoking does boost the risk of heart disease, stroke and several types of cancer, including lung and oral cancers.

In the new study, the researchers used a measure called pulse wave velocity to gauge aortic stiffness in 12 young, male smokers for two hours after they smoked a cigar, and after they puffed on an unlit cigar. The men’s aortic stiffness increased “promptly” after they smoked the cigar and stayed elevated for the two-hour study period, according to Vlachopoulos and his colleagues.

It’s unclear what these immediate effects mean for the long term, the researchers point out. But, they add, hours of daily arterial hardening over time would “logically” put a burden on heart and artery function. This study, they conclude, “provides further evidence that cigar smoking increases cardiovascular risk, and fights the promoted perception that cigars are innocuous alternatives to cigarettes.”

SOURCE: American Journal of Hypertension, April 2004.

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