The planned use of graphic images on cigarette packs to show the effects of tobacco should be extended to alcohol products as it is more cancerous than tobacco, says the SA Dental Association (Sada).

It said that while smoking increased the risk of people developing cancer up to five times the norm, alcohol usage elevated the risk of contracting mouth cancer ninefold, making alcohol more dangerous.

The increased risk was due to the fact that alcohol acted as a “solvent for carcinogens” therefore enhancing the activation of tobacco and other carcinogens through the soluble mucosa.

And when alcohol was used in combination with tobacco the risk was even greater. Heavy smokers who drank were more likely to have oral cancer compared with those who only smoked or used alcohol separately.

Professor André van Zyl, Sada’s spokesman, who is also an associate at the School of Dentistry at Pretoria University, said that given the impact of alcohol on health, particularly that of young people who were smoking dagga, there was now an urgency to also put graphic images of cancer on alcoholic beverages similar to those proposed for tobacco products.

In recent years South Africa announced its plans to display graphic warnings on cigarette packets, including images of throat, cervical and penile cancer, as a way of discouraging smokers.

But the Department of Health has so far delayed printing these images, saying that some of the images might be “culturally or religiously insensitive”.

But Van Zyl said that given the health consequences of tobacco and alcohol consumption, it was now time “to shock people with cancer pictures just like they do with car accidents and with tobacco products”.

According to the International Agency for Cancer Research, annual death rates of all cancers was about 550 000, with the numbers expected to double by 2030.

“As dentists we deal with consequences of smoking and drinking almost every day. Often patients present to us when the cancers are too advanced. Some of these cancers can break into the cheek and destroy the outer part of the face… sometimes they go up the brain.

“If I were to show some of the cancer pictures to smokers or even to my own children, I don’t think they would even think about smoking and drinking,” he said. - Cape Argus