Comparing smoking to bacon in terms of risk of cancer is extremely misleading, despite the strength of evidence being similar

ScreenHunter_1472 Oct. 28 20.49

Suzi Gage in The Guardian:

Vegetarians are probably breathing a sigh of relief today as headlines are warningus that processed and cured meats cause cancer. But the way this message has been framed in the media is extremely misleading.

Comparing meat to tobacco, as most news organisations who’ve chosen to report this have done, makes it seem like a bacon sandwich might be just as harmful as a cigarette. This is absolutely not the case.

The headlines are referring to the news that the World Health Organisation has classified cured and processed meats (bacon, salami, sausages, ham) as group 1 carcinogens, because there is a causal link between consuming these meats and bowel cancer. This group also includes tobacco, alcohol, arsenic and asbestos, all known to cause certain cancers.

But just because all these things cause cancer, doesn’t mean they’re all as risky as each other. A substance can increase your risk of cancer a small amount, or, like tobacco, a huge amount. Comparing them like for like is just really confusing to anyone trying to work out how to lead a healthy life.

These brilliant infographics from Cancer Research UK illustrate this perfectly. The risk of lung cancer from smoking is extremely high. Of all cases of lung cancer (44,488 new cases in the UK in 2012), evidence suggests that 86% of these are caused by tobacco. And lung cancer isn’t the only type of cancer caused by smoking. CRUK estimate that 19% of all cancers are caused by smoking. Another way of looking at this is that if smoking was completely eliminated, there would be 64,500 fewer cases of cancer in the UK per year.

More here.