By Joe Levy
There’s a new million-dollar question in the science of indoor tanning and it has nothing to do with anything you’d ever find in a sunbed salon – look no further than your kitchen.
Last fall, the World Health Organization shocked many in the public health community by adding processed meat, such as bacon, to its list of substances it considers carcinogenic to humans. Bacon now joins tobacco, plutonium and arsenic in that often misunderstood category – a category that has also included UV exposure from the sun or a sunbed since 2009.
The consumer has no idea what the list actually means, because common items such as birth control pills, red wine and some artificial sweeteners have all graced that list before. In short, being called a carcinogen does not mean a substance is carcinogenic in everyday doses or exposure. Even the U.S. government includes this information in its definition of ‘carcinogen,’ but no one ever talks about it.
So when UV was added to WHO’s list in 2009, no one was talking about that all-important caveat. And no one was talking about the fact that, among Group 1 Carcinogens, only one is something you absolutely need in order to live – we’d all be dead without UV exposure.
But this fall when the WHO added bacon – a dietary staple in North America that, depending on whose stats you believe, more than half of us consume – WHO felt it necessary to issue a four-page Q&A on the carcinogenity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. In that document was the following explanation:
Q: Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). Tobacco smoking and asbestos are also both classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). Does it mean that consumption of processed meat is as carcinogenic as tobacco smoking and asbestos.
A: No, processed meat has been classified in the same category as causes of cancer such as tobacco smoking and asbestos (IARC Group 1, carcinogenic to humans), but this does NOT mean that they are all equally dangerous. The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.
Let’s be clear: You don’t need bacon to live; however, you absolutely do need sunlight and UV exposure. Unfortunately, no such explainer was ever issued for sunlight or UV exposure by anyone and when Smart Tan and the American Suntanning Association have discussed that distinction, we’ve been largely ignored. Instead, public health groups continue to compare UV to tobacco and plutonium.
For bacon, the WHO was careful to acknowledge, “Eating meat has known health benefits” but made no such statement about UV exposure. Even National Public Radio came to the defense of bacon. “We should note, we’re talking relative risk here, and the chances of developing colorectal cancer are fairly low to begin with.”
What are the chances? It gets even more interesting when you go all the way to the details: WHO said the reason bacon and processed meat were added to the list is that eating 1.8 ounces of it daily increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
Compare that to sunbeds: Eating bacon has a greater statistical connection (18 percent vs. 16 percent) for a greater number of people (more than half of the population, verses less than 10 percent) to get a cancer that is more deadly and kills more people than skin cancer. Not to mention that you don’t need bacon to survive, opposed to UV and sunlight.
So that double standard is out there now for everyone to see, and it can’t be explained away. Bacon is riskier, if you believe the statistics, but is being defended with caveats that only make our case for responsible UV exposure stronger.
Now that’s a story with sizzle.
SmartTan.com news articles regularly report medical and scientific information to keep you abreast of current events related to UV light. This information is not intended to be used by any party to make unwarranted health claims to promote sunbed usage. Indoor tanning businesses are obligated to communicate a fair and balanced message to all clients about your products and services including the potential risks associated with indoor tanning. Contact your Smart Tan representative to find out more about what you can and can’t say in your tanning salon business.
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