On Jan. 17, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the U.S. surgeon general’s first report on the health hazards of cigarette smoking, the current surgeon general’s office released a report linking smoking to several new chronic diseases. These include diabetes, erectile dysfunction, cancer of the colon and liver, and stroke, in addition to the well-known links to lung and oral cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease.
The parallels between cigarette smoking and meat consumption are uncanny:
• The chronic diseases linked to both activities and costs of associated medical care and lost productivity are very similar.
• The first government reports warning consumers about health hazards of cigarette smoking and meat consumption were issued in 1964 (by surgeon general) and in 1977 (by Senate Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs), respectively.
• The first warning labels on cigarette and meat packaging were required in 1966 and 1994, respectively.
• Both activities are discouraged by health advocates, and both are declining.
But there is one important difference: the meat industry impacts more state economies and has stronger congressional clout than the tobacco industry. A surgeon general’s report on the hazards of meat consumption is most unlikely.
Our health remains our personal responsibility.