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Are Hot Dogs As Bad For You As Cigarettes?

Are Hot Dogs As Bad For You As Cigarettes?


(Full disclosure: I’m a long-term vegetarian and haven’t eaten a hot dog in decades.)

An advocacy group for preventive medicine, the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine (PCRM), is claiming that hot dogs are as bad for your health as cigarettes and “wreck your health.” PCRM has put up a billboard featuring an image of hot dogs in a cigarette box near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to warn NASCAR Sprint Cup fans that they’d best make other choices when they visit the snack bar.

Last year, says PCRM, fans at the Indy 500 consumed more than 1.1 million hot dogs. The American Institute for Cancer Research has found that daily consumption of one 50-gram serving of processed meat (about the amount in one hot dog) can increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Obviously, manufacturers of hot dogs and other processed meats are of the opinion that the hot dog/cigarette comparison is not only odious, but inaccurate. Says the president of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Janet Riley, in SFGate:

“This is an absurd claim. Trying to link a food product that has clear nutritional value with a product like cigarettes, which have no redeeming qualities, is inflammatory and alarmist. This is an animal rights group that wants to take away your choices.”

PCRM does call for an end to animal testing; its website says that it conducts clinical research and “encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.” The health and nutrition section of PCRM’s website promotes vegan and vegetarian diets: It’s not an organization that is very hot dog-oriented unless, you’re talking about tofu dogs or the like.

Writing at SF Gate’s Mommy Files, Amy Graff notes that she still plans to continue serving her children the occasional hot dog, while seeking out nitrate-free hot dogs as much as possible. Others have all-out objected to the billboard and called the PCRM “food fascists.”

The Washington Post offers a review of research studies about the safety, or danger, of eating processed meat. Behind all this brouhaha is a valid question though. Should foods that have been shown to have health risks come with warning labels as cigarettes do? It is often said that people have a “choice” about what foods they eat, and that such warning labels are “unfairly” prejudicing people against eating some food or other. But even when people know that anything deep-fried could give you diabetes/heart attack/etc., the lines at McDonalds don’t seem to be any shorter, and it’s not because people are clamoring for Golden Arches apple slices.

The “hot dogs are like cigarettes” billboard is deliberately inflammatory and even veers on the sensationalistic. On the other hand, it’s certainly getting people to ask how healthy hot dogs and other processed meats  – other processed foods — are. Certainly people have a choice of what to eat but, as the old saying goes, “you are what you eat”: The billboard may well give NASCAR fans in line at the concessions stand just enough food for thought.

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5:50AM PDT on Sep 5, 2011


5:33AM PDT on Aug 15, 2011

Thanks for the article.

5:47PM PDT on Aug 8, 2011

Since I was a small child eating a boiled or otherwise heated hot dog made my stomach upset. However, oddly enough, if the hot dog was grilled over charcoal to the point of splitting the skin, it did not upset my stomach. Also, if a hot dog is cooked (heated, whatever) under a broiler, as long as the skin is broken, I can eat it and not suffer pain or upset. Odd, I know.

These days I either eat vegan or turkey hot dogs. I believe the all beef ones *could* be good if the cattle were free range, eating nothing with pesticides, having no hormones fed to them. Most of us know that unless the hot dog is labeled as being "all beef", "turkey" etc., it probably is a mix of a lot of things we wouldn't choose to eat.

11:54AM PDT on Aug 6, 2011

Oh please what a bunch of propaganda. They may not be good for you all the time but they are not as bad as cigarettes what a bunch of vegan nonsense.

11:30PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

And they look like you know what.

11:30PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

They ain't good for you -- nitrates -- it's the crap they add that will kill you and me.

7:34PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

First of all the only comparison between a hotdog and a cigarette is when the hotdog is cooked barbecue style. Carbon carcinogens from the smoke of the cigarette as to carbon carcinogens of a barbecued hotdog embedded after being cooked. However, inhaling smoke from a cigarette is more intense. As for hotdogs, I opined that one has to eat many hotdogs to have a level of carcinogens as compared to a cigarette inhaled smoke.

Secondly, hotdogs that are microwaved or steamed do not have as higher levels of carcinogens as those that are barbecued.

Thirdly, I think one has to an idiot to eat hotdogs everyday... Don't you get tired of hotdogs after a while. But having said that American foods are not about hotdogs only. Burgers (of any sort), if one takes daily, is bad as well. I do not think I can only rests on these diets.

I opined that meat is best taken with a course of food that contains bread or potatoes, mixed veges and fruits. Meat is best taken moderately.

6:36PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

interesting article, but I still love hotdogs, especially Ballpark hotdogs!

6:34PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

Ew. One a day, I can't remember the last time I ate a hot dog, probably back in the 1970's, I think. I eat very little meat anyway, I'm not a vegetarian, but certainly a meat minimiser. And hot dogs taste as gross as they look. I can't understand why anybody would eat one, let alone every day. But that's just my opinion.

6:22PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

@ Bill C Which nutritionist advised you that hot dogs were a healthy choice?

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