Scare Tactics

| By Marvin R. Shanken | From James Woods, May/Jun 97

What's gotten into the anti-cigar folks? They were once content to yell at us on the street, make ugly faces at us in bars, demand we extinguish our cigars in smoking sections and generally take a holier-than-thou attitude about what they dub as our character flaw. But lately they've been on a rampage, ready to paint cigar smoking as the worst thing to happen since the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.

Here are just a few examples:

* The American Cancer Society recently ran an advertisement in U.S. News and World Report that pictured an ashtray, a cigar and a cutter, with the tag line: "You can use it to cut the tumor off your lip."

* Wayne Gretzky, the cover profile of the March/April issue of Cigar Aficionado, took a broadside in USA Today from an organization that criticized him for ignoring his position as a role model for the youth of America. Time magazine weighed in as well by labeling Gretzky a loser in the debate. To his credit, Gretzky released a statement that claimed his right as an adult to smoke cigars in moderation.

* Timothy Johnson, ABC's health reporter, asserted on "World News Tonight" that if you smoked one cigar a day, pretty soon you'd be smoking five to 10 a day, and he, too, distorted the increased risk of oral cancers in cigar smokers.

* Brooks Brothers caved in to an anti-tobacco activist who complained about models holding "cancer-causing" cigars in a recent holiday catalog. Brooks Brothers responded that it would no longer photograph models with cigars, even though it would still sell cigar accessories in that same catalog.

The truth seems evident to me. The anti-cigar people are grasping at anything they can find because they don't have concrete evidence to support their crusade. For nearly 20 years, the Surgeon General's Report on Smoking stated that cigar smokers who smoked fewer than five cigars a day had the same mortality rate as nonsmokers. When that conclusion became politically unpalatable in the 1980s, the report's authors turned to other studies that surveyed European cigar smokers, citing the findings to bolster their claims that cigar smoking increased the risk of oral cancers. They failed to mention, of course, that the Europeans in the studies smoked 10 to 20 small, dry, cigarette-style cigars a day, and that they usually inhaled.

Well, guess what? Today's cigar smoker doesn't smoke that way. In an ongoing survey that we are running at Cigar Aficionado's on-line site, we have received more than 14,000 responses to our question: How often do you smoke a cigar? More than 92 percent of the respondents report that they smoke an average of one cigar a day or fewer, and 69 percent smoke three or fewer a week! Asked if they inhale, 90 percent say they do not. Yet none of the research that I have seen has focused on cigar smokers who consume cigars in moderation.

What does this mean? One doctor who reviewed the research told me that there was a definite link between frequency of smoking and inhalation behavior and the risk of cancer. In other words, the moderate smoking habits of our respondents just aren't as dangerous as the anti-cigar folks are trying to portray them.

There's an old axiom in the world of negotiating: the louder and more hysterical and more desperate your opponent becomes, the closer you are to winning. But we cannot relax now. We must counter every instance of these kinds of scare tactics, and we must debunk immediately any assertion that is made without scientific foundation.

Marvin R. Shanken

Editor & Publisher