Most regular readers of the ASH blog will have heard the news from the World Health Organization (WHO) that smoked and preserved meats are now known carcinogens. Far too many news outlets, eager to sensationalize, have announced this news with headlines such as: Bacon, ham and sausages ‘as big a cancer threat as smoking’.
To be clear: no it isn’t. And the WHO never said it was.
The confusion stems from the way WHO categorizes cancer risks. Products or behaviors that have a clear link to cancer are all placed into the same category, a category that includes asbestos and tobacco. There are five categories in all, but saying that because tobacco and meat are in the same “quintile” means that they are equally dangerous is like saying that anybody in the top fifth of wage earners (roughly an income of over $200,000 a year) is as rich as Bill Gates.
So to set the record straight…
One serving of bacon a day raises your risk of certain cancers by 18%
Three cigarettes a day raise your risk of lung cancer by 500%
So please, if you decide that your love of bacon makes the slight increase in cancer risk worth it, don’t come to the same conclusion about tobacco. Tobacco kills about half of its long term users.
Eating sausage is like driving slightly over the speed limit. Smoking cigarettes is like playing Russian roulette with half the chambers loaded.