From historical legends such as Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy to modern-day celebrities such as Jack Nicholson and Michael Jordan, public figures have helped glamorize cigar smoking as a refined, healthier alternative to cigarette smoking. It is thought of as a luxurious and mostly harmless habit because cigar smokers usually do not inhale the smoke into the lungs. Delta Dental wants to dispel that notion and warn consumers that smoking cigars regularly may be every bit as harmful to your oral health as smoking cigarettes.
“All tobacco products have been demonstrated to be harmful and can cause cancer,” said Dr. Bill Kohn, Delta Dental’s vice president for dental science and policy. “Cigar smokers may not have the same high rates of heart disease, lung disease and cancer as cigarette smokers, but they have higher rates of these diseases than non-cigar smokers.”
In 2013, an estimated 36,000 new cases of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer will be diagnosed and an estimated 6,850 people will die of these cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. In addition, incidence rates of oral cavity and pharynx cancer are more than twice as high in men as in women.
Tobacco use is considered a major risk factor for the development of oral cancers. As with smoking cigarettes, regular cigar smoking increases the risk of oral and dental disease, such as gum disease and tooth loss. The addictive and toxic compounds, such as nicotine, in just one cigar can be as high as that in an entire pack of cigarettes. Cigar smoke pollutes the air with more than 60 cancer-causing chemicals, extending the damaging effects beyond just the smoker to those around them as well. And, although most cigar smokers don’t inhale, they directly expose their mouth and throat area to the smoke, as well as swallowing saliva exposed to the toxic chemicals.1
In popular social settings such as cigar bars, summer barbecues and golf outings, cigar smoking is often paired with drinking alcohol. Several studies cited by the American Cancer Society found a synergism between smoking and alcohol use, resulting in a more than 30-fold increased risk for individuals who both smoke and drink heavily. Tobacco smoking, particularly when combined with heavy alcohol consumption, has been identified as the primary risk factor for approximately 75 percent of oral cancers in the U.S.1
“Oral cancer risk is highest in persons using both alcohol and tobacco compared with those that only use one or the other,” Dr. Kohn said.
The bottom line is that consumption of any tobacco products – cigarettes, smokeless chewing tobacco, pipes and cigars – is harmful to oral health and should be avoided to reduce the risk of oral and pharyngeal cancers.
1 Blot WJ, McLaughlin JK, Winn DM, et al. Smoking and drinking in relation to oral and pharyngeal cancer. Cancer Res 1988;48:3282-7.