Is ham ‘the new smoking’?

Last week, Sunrise and Seven news ran segments about ham. The Australian Cancer Council have advised schools against putting processed meats such as ham, in school lunches, as the World Health Organisation has classified ham as a Class 1 carcinogen.

Viewers were shocked to hear from a medical doctor, there is no safe level of consumption of Class 1 carcinogens, and that processed meats like ham are not recommended in school lunches.

Seven News segment discussing the Cancer Council reccommendation to avoid ham in school lunches.

This segment was not well recieved. The backlash was intense. In the comments, it was as if viewers had been personally attacked, rather than given information and advice from a Cancer prevention society. There was suspicion. There was anger. Karl Stepanovich fired up in a rant about how he feels not eating ham is “unAustralian”. Did anyone react this badly to the ‘Slip, slop, slap’ skin cancer campaign? Like ever?

This appeal to the “Australian” archetype Karl Stefanovich uses in the backlash YouTube video is powerful stuff too – don’t underestimate it. What people perceive others will do, is what they’re most likely to do. Those trained in marketing are well versed in the power of the social norm. And marketing is super relevant here. It works. Even if it makes no sense.

This whole exchange made me want to look into the trajectory of smoking as, in recent history, mainstream society was at a very similar place with smoking. For decades ‘big tobacco’ were able to throw huge amounts of money into ‘research’ that muddied the waters, gave room for ‘maybes’ around the carcinogenity of smoking. People were initially outraged similarly, when told smoking was dangerous.

Cigarette Packets – Chesterfield, Peter Stuyvesant Extra Mile, Dunhill Superior Mild, Lambert & Butler Special Mild, Dunhill, Royal Standard, Embassy Number 1 King Size” by sludgegulper is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Today however, the majority of us feel quite comfortable with the knowledge that smoking causes cancer and we try not to expose our children to it, at the very least. Will we ever get to that place with processed meats such as ham and bacon? If so, how? What did it take to get here with smoking?

Now first I just want to state that I ‘came of age’ in the 90’s. By the time I started smoking, it was already well known that smoking wasn’t good for your health. In fact, an average night out for me in my 20’s, now almost seems now like an attempt to GET Cancer! I’d overindulge in alcohol, smoke an entire packet of cigarettes, finish the night with a kebab and start the next hungover day with a bacon and egg roll.

I took a lot of risks with my health as a young adult. But no one feels the same way about children and risky health behaviours. As parents, I see us all trying to keep them as safe as possible. Most of us didn’t wait for the legislation changes in Australia to stop smoking around children. We were all outraged in recent years to find Johnson & Johnson had knowingly had carcinogenic ingredients (including asbestos!) in it’s baby products.

Now asbestos is an interesting case study in Australia. In the 1970’s investigative journalists at the Australian Broadcasting corporation revealed the dangerous health impacts of asbestos. Cases of asbestos-related illness were commonplace in the medical literature from the 1920’s. But it wasn’t until 2003 that Australia finally placed a concrete ban on asbestos.

Asbestos” by ktheory is marked with CC BY 2.0.

So much for Karl worrying about a ban on ham anytime soon! If how we’ve dealt with smoking and asbestos is anything we can use as a scaffold, the ban on processed meats should come sometime around the middle of this century.

In the first half of the 20th Century, smoking became widespread due to successful marketing and the tobacco industry’s use of wealth and power to influence government policies. A great example was the provision of free cigarettes to soldiers to ‘boost morale’. Smoking has declined in popularity over the past 70 years as people have become increasingly aware of the inaccuracy of the marketing and as Government’s ceased colluding with ‘Big Tobacco’ and instead made policies in the best interests of public health.

Pork producers are understandably upset at the catastrophic impact the information about the carcinogenicity of ham and bacon could have on their industry. But just like asbestos insulation manufacturers and tobacco farmers before them, there will likely come a point in time (eventually) where people and Governments will no longer place the interests of pork producers’ bottom lines, over and above their own and their children’s health.

Heather, a content resident at Farm Animal Rescue, Dayboro, Queensland” by David McKelvey is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Petition to ban advertising of carcinogenic processed meats and label them as class 1 carcinogens:

Published by Alexis Howell

I'm an MBA graduate and longtime small business owner who is transitioning into blogging and podcasting. Pray for me yeah? I'm based in Sydney, Australia. I'm into writing, boxing, plant based food, songwriting, talking, meditation and reviewing online purchases.

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