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Leisurely Cigar Puffs Have Hidden Risks

Viewed as a glamourous luxury by men and women, cigars are promoted by everyone from sport superstars to top movie stars to upscale clothing stores and clubs. U.S. consumers lit up 4.4 billion cigars last year and sales continue to rise. As cigar connoisseurs are leisurely puffing, they fail to realize that their habit not only hurts their health and smiles, but also is addictive and may be more dangerous than cigarettes, say dental experts meeting at the Academy of General Dentistry's 45th annual meeting.

And cigar smoking is not just a habit of older men, but increasingly, of women and teens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 26.7 percent of teens ages 14 to 19 have smoked a cigar in the past year.

"Cigars provide a false sense of security because many people think that they are a safe alternative to cigarettes," says E. "Mac" Edington, DDS, MAGD, and president of the Academy of General Dentistry. "Cigars can have up to 40 times the nicotine and tar found in cigarettes."

Dentists are patients' first line of defense against the adverse effects of tobacco use and nicotine addiction stemming from cigars, cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Dentists routinely screen for oral cancer and can help patients with tobacco cessation programs.

"Cigars are marketed as an upscale habit of the wealthy," says Robert Mecklenburg, DDS, MPH, dental coordinator, Smoking and Tobacco Control Program of the National Cancer Institute. "They are portrayed as being related to having money, sophistication and an important social image of which people want to be a part. And kids are aware of what adults partake in."

"People think smoking occasional cigars are fine, but smoking cigars increases nicotine levels in the body," says Dr. Mecklenburg. "And an increase in nicotine means an increase in dependence. In addition, tobacco carcinogens places them at risk of mouth and throat cancer."

Other facts about cigar smoking:

  • Cigar smokers often have badly stained teeth and chronic bad breath.
  • Cigar smokers have four to 10 times the risk of dying from oral, laryngeal and esophageal cancers as nonsmokers.
  • The risk of lung cancer for cigar smokers is three times that of nonsmokers.
  • Cancer death rates among men who smoke cigars are 34 percent higher than among their nonsmoking peers.

The Academy of General Dentistry supports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in its efforts to regulate tobacco products and restrict children's access to tobacco products.
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