New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently proposed that stores keep cigarettes out of sight to curb smoking and save lives. But a staggering 50,000 deaths a year might be prevented if we also hid hot dogs and other processed meats such as ham and bacon that have been conclusively linked to colorectal cancer.
As a dietitian who works with cancer survivors, I propose we start hiding hot dogs from the citizens of the states that have the highest colorectal cancer death rates: West Virginia, Mississippi and Kentucky. It's the first step in protecting Americans from the lethal consequences of consuming processed meats.
Bloomberg says that cigarette displays "suggest that smoking is a normal activity, and they invite young people to experiment with tobacco." The same could be said of hot dog displays in supermarkets, especially as summer approaches. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Americans consume 7 billion hot dogs or 818 every second.
But hiding hot dogs in grocery stores is just a first step in combating Big Processed Meat's marketing blitz that has hooked America as ruthlessly as Big Tobacco once did. Big Tobacco had Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man. Big Processed Meat has the Weinermobile and Joey Chestnut.
The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is currently pushing weenies in cities across the country. And this spring and summer, Nathan's Famous has 12 qualifying contests across the United States and Canada leading up to its Nathan's Famous July 4 International Hot Dog-Eating Contest in Coney Island, which is covered on ESPN in 73 million households. Last year's winner, Joey Chestnut, ate 68 cancer-inducing hot dogs in 10 minutes.
But eating hot dogs wasn't always considered a "normal activity." Publicized photographs of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt eating a hot dog are credited with popularizing what was once widely disliked food. Americans should have stuck with their gut instinct about hot dogs.
Just one 50-gram serving of processed meat — about one hot dog — consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer, on average, by 21 percent, according to a large number of studies. And a European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study published this spring found that people who consume the most processed meat have a 44 percent higher risk for early death, compared with those who ate the least.
Besides shrouding hot dogs behind a solid refrigerator door or a curtain, there's another way to help alleviate this huge health toll that translates to exorbitant health care costs. Mayor Bloomberg proposed charging $10.50 per pack for cigarettes to help pay for the diseases caused by cigarette smoking.
A typical pack of hot dogs costs a mere $3. Hot dogs should be taxed to offset the $14 billion spent to treat colorectal cancer in the United States.
Today, nobody questions the dangers of cigarette smoking. But it still takes proposals like Mayor Bloomberg's to help America overcome decades of insidious tobacco-industry marketing. Let's not let America's addiction to hot dogs and other processed meats follow tobacco's costly and deadly course.
Joseph Gonzales is a dietitian for the nonprofit vegan organization Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.