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REFERENCE: Reimann, J.O.F.; Liles, S.; Hofstetter, C.R..; Chu, S.; Angulo, O.Y.; Hovell, M.F. The Popularity of Cigars: Continuing Phenomenon or Fading Fad? Poster presentation at the fourth Annual Investigators Meeting of the Tobacco Related Research Program, San Francisco, CA, December 3, 1999.

Over the last two years, trends in cigar use have become increasingly unclear. From 1992 to 1996, the popularity of cigars increased steadily, with the number of estimated regular U.S. smokers jumping from 8 to 10 million. A growing number of social events, magazines, internet sites, and clubs celebrated cigars. While research linked cigar use to serious health risks including laryngeal and esophageal cancer, the misperception that this form of smoking was safe remained common.

Some more recent indicators, however, suggest that cigar use is decreasing. For example, one major cigar company reported that its net income fell by nearly half during the latter part of 1998. Subsequently, industry analysts predicted that general cigar sales will drop at least ten percent in 1999, and that the sale of premium brands will fall by as much as 25%. These figures have lead media sources to respond with headlines such as "Ashes to Ashes: Stogies' Trendiness Takes a Tumble." In actuality, it is difficult to deduce if these figures reflect a real decline in cigar use. It might, for example, be speculated that an overestimation of projected demand has resulted in overstocked retail outlets. Thus no automatic conclusions about the trend's demise can be made.

As part of a multi-faceted research effort, our epidemiological study determined current cigar smoker prevalence rates and use patterns. A total of 1,137 San Diego County residents ranging in age from 18 to 93 (Mean = 44.2) participated in a random digit dial telephone survey. Forty-six percent of the total sample indicated having smoked cigars at some point, and 10.5% reported themselves as current smokers. For males, the current use rate fell at 13.3% while the corresponding figure for females was 3.8%. Among ethnic groups, Latinos reported the highest percentage of current cigar smokers (13%), followed by Whites (10.8%), African Americans (8%) and Asians (4.8%). None of those identifying themselves as Middle Eastern or American Indians described current cigar use. Male smokers reported having consumed an average of 10.5 cigars in the last 30 days, while females reported having smoked an average of 8.7 cigars. Age of initiation ranged from 12 to 63 with a mean of 25. Thirty-four percent of smoking respondents said they planned to use cigars for the rest of their lives.

Approximately two percent of those who had smoked cigars at some point, and 7.3% of current smokers attributed health problems to their cigar use. Reported difficulties included the aggravation of asthma and allergy symptoms, chronic cough, and bleeding gums.

A comparison of current results to 1996 cigar smoking prevalence rates among California adults (8.8% for men and 1.1% for women) suggests a recent increase rather than decrease in cigar use. While the metropolitan characteristics of San Diego County may contribute to higher than state-wide prevalence rates, overall results suggest that, at best, cigar smoking has leveled off. In conclusion, it appears that cigar use is not fading by itself. Given associated health risks, continued efforts to counteract this tobacco's popularity appear important.

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