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Risks Associated With Other Tobacco Products

Harry Mills, Ph.D.

Cigarettes are the most commonly used and probably the most dangerous tobacco product on the market. However, smoking cigars and pipes and using smokeless tobacco products (chewing tobacco and snuff) are also risky. The following section outlines the risks associated with each type of tobacco use.

Cigars

list with boxes checkedCigars differ from cigarettes in that cigarettes are made from tobacco wrapped in paper, while cigars are rolls of tobacco wrapped in tobacco leaves or another product that contains tobacco. Because of the way cigars are made, the smoke from a cigar tends to taste different, and is often more irritating, causing many cigar smokers to avoid inhaling (meaning less smoke actually reaches their lungs). Regardless of whether or not a cigar smoker inhales, he or she is still at greater risk for serious health problems than a nonsmoker. Some cigars, particularly large cigars, have as much nicotine as several cigarettes combined, and this nicotine is absorbed as rapidly through cigar smoke as it is through cigarette smoke. Because cigars are wrapped in materials that contain tobacco, the nicotine in cigars can be absorbed through the mucus membranes of the mouth even if a smoker does not inhale. Cigar smokers are also at increased risk for numerous health problems.

  • Cigar smoking increases the risk of death from lung, oral cavity, esophagus and larynx cancer.
  • Cigar smokers are 4 to 10 times more likely to die from laryngeal, oral or esophageal cancers as nonsmokers.
  • Cigar smokers who inhale are at increased risk for pancreas and bladder cancer, as well as for heart disease and lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
  • Cigar smoking has been linked to erectile dysfunction in men.

Pipes

Recent research by the American Cancer Society has found that pipe smokers face similar risks for cancer and other diseases as cigar smokers do. Pipe smokers were found to have an increased risk for lung, throat, esophageal, colon, and larynx cancers, as well as heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema and chronic bronchitis). Risks were generally less than those due to cigarette smoking but equal to or larger than the risks of smoking cigars.

While pipe smoking has decreased in many locations over time, tobacco manufacturers have been quick to note the successful marketing of premium cigars. Similar strategies are seen in the marketing of flavored tobacco and novel pipes to attract new smokers. Of particular concern is the marketing of “hookahs” as a trendy, less hazardous alternative to smoking. Hookahs are a variation of the water pipes developed in Turkey over 500 years ago. Hookahs have become popular around the world in recent years, and hookah bars have become common in big cities and some college towns. Regardless of the type of pipe or the type of tobacco you use, smoking tobacco in any form puts your health at risk.

Smokeless Tobacco

Although this article concentrates on the dangers of addiction to smoking, the use of smokeless tobacco can be just as dangerous. Smokeless tobacco is a category that includes chewing tobacco (“chew”) and snuff (“dip” or “rub”), that users either chew or place between their cheeks and gums. Many people are under the impression that smokeless tobacco products are safer than smoking because they don’t receive the same amount of media attention as smoking does. However, smokeless tobacco products can be just as addictive and are similarly associated with many dangerous health effects.

Smokeless tobacco delivers a higher dose of nicotine than cigarettes, so that a person who uses smokeless tobacco 8–10 times per day might have the same amount of nicotine in their body as a person who smokes 30–40 cigarettes each day. Smokeless tobacco can have the following health consequences:

  • After using smokeless tobacco for 3 to 5 years, white, leathery patches or lesions (called leucoplakia) often form on the cheeks or gums of users. These lesions sometimes develop into cancers of the lip, tongue, and cheek.
  • Smokeless tobacco may play a role in causing high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
  • Individuals who use chewing tobacco and snuff are 2 to 3 times more likely than non-smokers to develop severe dental problems, including tooth loss, abrasion of the teeth, and bone loss around the teeth. Gum disease may not only result in tooth loss but is also thought to increase the risk for diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Although this article focuses on stopping smoking, the information contained here can be just as useful for you if you want to stop using smokeless tobacco products as well. The first step in working toward removing tobacco from your life is to understand why it has become such an important part of your routine. That way, you can begin to work toward changing that routine.