The cigar business is booming but a National Cancer Institute study has shown that daily cigar smoking can cause cancer and heart disease. The NewsHour has the report.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Remember when cigars were considered dirty and smelly, when they were smoked only by male politicians making deals in smoke-filled rooms? Not anymore. Cigars are now the hottest, hippest thing going. Richard D'Onofrio has opened seven mini storefront cigar factories around the country in the last 10 months.
RICHARD D'ONOFRIO, La Havanita Cigar Factory: We're exceeding our production. It's amazing. It's a wonderful business. The timing is good. You know, people today want to look at--as the century winds down, I think the party has already started--New Year's Eve 1999.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: It's a party with big name guests. The stars are smoking cigars in the movies and on TV. Athletes celebrate victories with cigars, and so do presidents. Celebrities grace the covers of glossy cigar magazines. Jonathan Scott publishes one of those magazines. He says cigars have come to symbolize--
JONATHAN SCOTT, Cigar Smoker Magazine: The good life. It's the fine wines, the fine liquors, the fine hotels, the fine cigars, and the fine company, and the fine conversation. It's been a terrific journey for me as publisher of Cigar Smoker Magazine.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Though even Scott is amazed at how the so-called quest for the good life has fueled his magazine's growth.
JONATHAN SCOTT: The change has been phenomenal. And the magazine, for instance, grows 20 percent almost every issue and we're quarterly. Four billion premium cigars were sold last year.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: And not all of those cigars are being sold to men. Tobacco store owner and entrepreneur Diane Silvius Gits.
DIANA SILVIUS GITS, Up Down Tobacco Shop: The big change are the women smoking cigars. And it's like they tasted the men's cigars and they liked them. And they like--you got to smoke a big cigar. And women look kind of good with a big cigar. Don't you think?
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: No argument from commodities broker Wayne Grover.
WAYNE GROVER, Cigar Smoker: I think a woman smoking a cigar is one of the sexiest things that I have ever seen, hands down.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: As delighted as Gits is with the new attitude, she is somewhat surprised. It's a far cry from 35 years ago when she was the only woman in Chicago selling cigars.
DIANA SILVIUS GITS: It was terrible. I used to be in the store when I was down the street on Burden and Wells, and a man would walk in and say, I don't want you to wait on me; I want a man to wait on me. I'd have to go find a street sweeper to wait on him or something. And that was--they were terrible. But all those guys are mostly dead now, so it's much better.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: So much better that she's the only woman in America with her own brand of cigar. The Diana Silvius Diamond Vintage is a premium cigar made in the Dominican Republic. The Silvius is just part of her $2 million inventory.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Do you ever feel like you're hurting your health by smoking a cigar?
DIANA SILVIUS GITS: Never. I feel like I'm hurting my health when I go and eat a bunch of greasy french fries.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But in the first long-term study of cigar smokers versus non-smokers researchers at Kaiser Permanente in California found that cigar smokers nearly double their risk of dying from all forms of cancer. The new National Cancer Institute report has upped the ante on the dangers of cigar smoking even more. The American Lung Association's John Kirkwood thinks the NCI report will bolster his organization's conviction that even occasional cigar smoking is dangerous.
JOHN KIRKWOOD, American Lung Association: I think it could be a wake-up call. It could have the same impact that the Surgeon General's Report had. It could focus on the health issues regarding cigar smoking, and, in fact, raise people's awareness and consciousness and perhaps give them second thoughts about taking up a cigar.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Surgeon Sharon Collins is well aware of the relationship between smoking cigars and cancer. She specializes in head and neck cancer surgery at the Loyola University Medical Center outside of Chicago. Because they are rare, head and neck cancers are often not recognized in their early stages, and the survival rate is less than 50 percent. The surgery is often radical, the removal of a tongue or a jaw, though Collins has pioneered less invasive forms of head and neck surgery. She had operated on this patient, a former cigar and cigarette smoker, two days earlier.
DR. SHARON COLLINS, Cancer Surgeon: Even though you did have what we would consider an advanced tumor of your tongue, we were fortunately able to do an operation where we saved most of your normal parts, and I think you're going to have a very nice, functional result. You're going to look basically normal on the outside. You should be able to speak and swallow essentially normally.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Collins says 90 percent of her patients have used tobacco products. She is clear about the risk.
DR. SHARON COLLINS: Cigar smoking is associated with four to ten times higher risk of getting cancer of the mouth than in non-smokers.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Her patient had half of his tongue removed and would not be able to talk for months. But he did have a message for cigar smokers.
PATIENT HOLDING UP MESSAGE HE WROTE: When you see me now I hope you will think twice.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Many new cigar smokers are young and health conscious, and they often don't associate cigar smoking with a high degree of risk.
WAYNE GROVER: I grew up as a runner, and so I was always very healthy, and, you know, just through the work that I'm in and the friends I associate with, I kind of took up the cigar smoking, and I just really enjoy the taste, and with a little heavier beer, it's just great; it's very relaxing.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Many smokers say they feel safe smoking cigars because they usually don't inhale.
RICHARD D'ONOFRIO: Here's why you shouldn't inhale a cigar, because the flavor is in your mouth and it's different than a cigarette. I smoked cigarettes. I quit cigarettes 25 years ago, you know. I exercise and watch what I eat, but, you know, you have to enjoy life. We're only here for one shot, so--
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But that one cigar contains 40 times as much nicotine as a cigarette. That means that smoking that one cigar is about the same as smoking a pack of cigarettes. Industry figures show that close to 5 billion cigars were sold last year, a drop in the bucket compared to the sale of 470 billion cigarettes, but enough to attract the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. Robert Pitofsky chairs the commission.
ROBERT PITOFSKY, Chairman, Federal Trade Commission: There are a fair number of reports that cigar smoking has spiked up in the last four or five years, and, perhaps more important to us, there are indications that cigar smoking by young people seventeen and under have spiked up, and, therefore, the same concerns that we and Congress and the country has about tobacco use by young people concerns us now about cigars.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Pitofsky told the NewsHour's Murray Jacobson that the commission is monitoring the amount of advertising dollars spent on cigars and is considering recommending to Congress that warning labels be placed on cigars. Though some cigars do contain labels now, Pitofsky says they're nearly impossible to read.
ROBERT PITOFSKY: Warning people clearly of the health risks, telling them in no uncertain terms that cigar smoke produces serious health risks, I think that's an obligation of government. And it doesn't mean that we're denying them the opportunity to go ahead and take the risk, but they ought to know what the risks are when they start down that road.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: If Congress agrees to warning levels, would that have an impact on those who are profiting from the newfound popularity of cigars?
JONATHAN SCOTT: They're going to try and wreck our good time. They certainly are going to try and do that. Are they going to do it? No. They're not going to succeed. I think we've had it up to our eyeballs already with people telling us what we can and what we can't do.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Those in favor of warning labels are looking to the National Cancer Institute Report to bolster their effort.