Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. National Institutes of Health commissioned the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine to study premium cigars. The National Academies formed an “expert committee” of 13 American scientists who released a 520-page report on March 10, 2022.
The National Academies’ report is the most comprehensive analysis ever conducted on premium cigars. It shows that premium cigars are enjoyed by adults in moderation, are marketed to adults, present lower health risks than other tobacco products, and should be treated differently from other tobacco products.
Dr. Steven Teutsch, chair of the National Academies’ committee on premium cigars, summarized the research as follows: “Since only a small proportion of the population smokes premium cigars — and of those who do, most smoke only a small number each month — the aggregate health effects in the population are modest.”
This report will be used to inform and shape the regulation of premium cigars in the United States for decades to come.
The American Premium Cigar Smoker
The National Academies found that 1% of Americans enjoy premium cigars, a number that has been consistent over time. The researchers concluded that “[p]remium cigar users are overwhelmingly male, older, white, and more affluent (i.e., higher education and income) . . . .” Importantly, in examining 10 years of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the National Academies found no statistically significant use of premium cigars by children.
The typical American consumer began smoking premium cigars at age 25 and enjoys premium cigars an average of 1 day per month. Only 5% of American consumers smoke premium cigars daily.
The study found that nearly all premium cigars are purchased at specialty cigar stores or cigar bars. The median retail price is $7 per cigar and 72% of consumers buy premium cigars individually, not in boxes. The researchers found no significant sales of premium cigars at convenience stores or gas stations, unlike other tobacco products.
Health Risks of Premium Cigars
According to the National Academies, the level of health risk from premium cigar smoking depends on whether a consumer inhales and how often he or she smokes premium cigars.
The researchers examined 26 years of data from the National Longitudinal Mortality Survey and reported that consumers who smoke one cigar per day do not have a statistically significant increased risk of mortality. This finding is consistent with the data reported by the U.S. National Cancer Institute in Monograph No. 9 in 1998.
The National Academies also used the National Longitudinal Mortality Survey to examine the risk of specific diseases in premium cigar consumers. The report concluded that “[p]remium cigar smokers and never-tobacco users had similar prevalence of cancer, heart condition, COPD, and asthma.”
Like all tobacco products, premium cigars contain nicotine, which can be addictive. However, the typical premium cigar consumer smokes 1 premium cigar per month, a frequency that is not consistent with addiction.
Premium Cigar Marketing
The National Academies examined how premium cigars are marketed and advertised in the United States. As part of this analysis, researchers reviewed issues of Cigar Journal along with other publications. The report concluded that premium cigars are not marketed to children and are instead marketed as follows:
“Based on the articles, advertisements, and covers sampled, cigar lifestyle magazines appear to target middle-aged to older white men, featuring themes that emphasized high quality of the product; a luxurious lifestyle that involves premium cigars but also other products, such as vehicles, coffee, and travel, as well as masculinity and success; and cigar use as a fun social activity.”
Testing Premium Cigar Smoke
In the United States and other countries regulators are considering requiring manufacturers to test premium cigars. Although the National Academies found that the tobacco inside premium cigars can be tested for nicotine and other constituents, the researchers explained that it is not possible to reliably test premium cigar smoke. Machines simply do not exist to test how premium cigars are smoked and the testing regimes developed for cigarettes do not work for premium cigars:
Defining Premium Cigars
The National Academies included a set of recommendations in its report. The first recommendation – listed as a “high priority” – is creating a consistent definition for premium cigars. The researchers concluded that there is a “meaningful difference” between premium cigars and other tobacco products, and not having a uniform definition of premium cigars has “significantly hindered the research on premium cigars.”
After reviewing a wide range of premium cigar definitions, the National Academies adopted a clear and concise definition. Importantly, the National Academies did not include a minimum price in its definition, unlike other definitions.
The National Academies study on premium cigars presents a wealth of information that will help inform and shape policy and regulation of premium cigars in the United States for decades to come.
Text: Drew Newman
Photo: Richard Sagredo on unsplash
In addition to being a fourth-generation cigar maker, Drew Newman holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Williams College, a Juris Doctor degree from American University, and a Master’s in Public Policy from Princeton University.
In case you would like to create some tables highlighting demographic data of American cigar consumers, here are some Summary Tables from Wave 4 of the Path Study (430-35)