Photography by Oliver Burston
Lately, everything from sitting down to what you put in your coffee is being called “the new smoking”. But is the buzz-term ever justified?
We trawled the annals of science to find out which habits you love aren’t worth breaking, and which you should cut out.
Addictive, never ending notifications are making us antisocial, app-lobotomised Pokemon-chasing iZombies.
Googling “are smartphones bad for you?” gets 33 million results, most of which answer so affirmatively you’ll be tempted to smash yours against the wall. In terms of negative coverage, they’re right up there with ISIS and the Kardashians.
According to the papers: smartphone use in bed suppresses melatonin and affects your eyesight, damaging sleep patterns; an obsession with checking your screen can ruin your sex life, mobile-addicted teens suffer anxiety during lulls in notifications; global rates of myopia have soared in recent years; kids ignored by smartphone-glued parents miss out on key development interactions; and all that hunching-over is bad for your neck and back. Having fact-checking resources at your fingertips all day will make you mentally lazy, too.
A 2015 study conducted on 319 students shows a clear link between smartphone overuse and depression, anxiety and/or reduced sleep quality. “However”, says neuroscientist Nicola Ray Of Manchester Metropolitan University, “where smartphone overuse causes these things or is a result of them –is up for debate”.
Are smartphones the new smoking? Quite possibly, if you use them too much… but have you seen what the world looks like without an Instagram filter?
Like a delicious, sizzling Judas, everyone’s beloved breakfast protein has betrayed you, with just two rashers of the stuff increasing your chances of colorectal cancer by 18%.
Last year, the WHO suggested bacon classify as “probably carcinogenic to humans”: the same category as asbestos and cigarettes. The thinking is that heme found in red meat breaks down into carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds in the digestive tract. Throw that bacon roll in a bin, and then throw that bin in a wheelie bin.
You wouldn’t tuck into an asbestos sarmie, so bacon is now firmly off the menu, right? “Absolutely not”, says dietician Priya Tew. “This was a particularly acute case of media hype, based on an unfinished, one-and-a-half page document that contained no new evidence, merely a reframing of evidence from the last 20 years.” Retrieve that bin! “What the report actually says is that there’s some evidence that if you eat large amounts of red meat (particularly processed red meat) then there could be a link of cancer. We’ve known that for decades, so it’s nothing new”.
Unless you’re ravenously, dementedly carnivorous, the safe-side limits are pretty reasonable. “You can eat three rashers of bacon a day and have red meat as a main meal twice a week without any problems”. Tew assures us. So get stuck in and try these delicious oat flapjacks with crispy bacon.
Is bacon the new smoking? Nope. Not even smoked bacon.
Grounds of the good stuff have made twitchy crack-heads of us all: as well as twisting up your brain in the exact same way as cocaine, coffee can lead to cancer and heart disease.
Since 1966 at least 21 studies have been undertaken on a potential link between coffee and coronary heart disease. Other studies claimed to find a causal link between coffee drinking and lung cancer.
Most studies that earned coffee its notoriety have been widely disregarded, because (as pointed out in a 2014 meta-analysis by Harvard School of Health’s Dr Rob van Dam) they failed to take into account their subjects’ other unhealthy lifestyle choices. “It’s perfectly safe to drink up to four cups of coffee a day”, says Tew. In fact coffee has a few clear benefits, one being that it contains anti-oxidants that help fight cancer.
New studies have shown that coffee may protect against diabetes, liver disease, gallstones, Parkinson’s and depression-and (shock!) improve cognitive function. As for caffeine’s drug-like grip on your brain, don’t book into rehab just yet. “Coffee is highly addictive”, says Dr Ray. “It’s a psycho-stimulant that blocks the same receptors as cocaine, reinforcing addictive behaviour. The difference is that cocaine is highly toxic and coffee isn’t.”
Is coffee the new smoking? Unless you’re working through a buy-10-get-one-free loyalty card every few days, you should be in the clear. Want to pimp your cup tomorrow morning? Try one of these coffee-boosting recipes.
We now spend half our lives slumped in a chair. The idle muscles and sluggish blood flow that can result to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and even reduced brain function.
This story rocketed into the mainstream last year when Apple CEO Tim Cook declared: “Sitting is the new cancer”. His solution: the soon-to-be launched Apple Watch would rescue us all from our fat assed fate. Phew!
Pins and needles aside, sitting for extended periods adversely impacts the body’s metabolism, increasing levels of unhealthy fats, such as triglycerides, and decreasing levels of HDL cholesterol. A study of sitting’s health risks was conducted on 92 000 people over 12 years. Subjects who spent more than 11 hours a day sitting were 21% more likely to die of cancer and 27% more likely to die of heart disease than those who sat for four hours or less. A particular correlation has been noted with TV viewing. Thanks for being fatally addictive, House of Cards.
Fortunately, the solution is simple: walk on your lunch break, don’t skip the gym and put a limit on these evening series binges. And maybe invest in an Apple Watch. Seriously, it’ll drive you to move more than you did yesterday, and help you keep an eye on your heart rate too.
Is sitting the new smoking? Not quite. Sit down while smoking, however, and you’re really living dangerously.
When there’s smoke…The e-cigs thing turned out to be too good to be true, with their flavour-enhancing aldehydes attacking your respiratory system-making e-cigs just as bad as what they were supposed to save us from.
Initial mistrust turned to grudging acceptance as medical experts came out in support of vaping as an alternative to smoking. Then, in an article in the British Medical Journal last September, Professors Martin Mckee and Simon Capewell argued that vaping’s benefits had been oversold by parties with vested interests. And so, once again, vaping received the suspicious side-eye: Sanlam’s chief medical advisor Dr Pieter Coetzer announced that the insurance company would still charge its customers smoker’s rates if they declared that the risks of vaping far outweigh any perceived benefit.
“Inhaling anything that’s not supposed to be in your lungs will cause damage”, says lung expert Professor Robert West of UCL. “But on a scale of zero to 100, if zero is breathing in fresh sea air, and 100 is smoking a cigarette, then vaping is around five”. Safe-ish it may be, but vaping won’t nix your habit. “Vaping is every bit of addictive as smoking”, says Dr Ray. “The benefit is that you’re not also ingesting tar and other chemicals used in cigarattes”.
Is vaping the new smoking? Not really. Unless you’re a smoker, in which case it probably should be”.
Sugar is addictive as meth, cheaper than chips and the number-one contributor to the global obesity epidemic.
The public’s prodigious sugar consumption has been a newspaper mainstay for years, hand-in-hand with reports of what the sweet stuff is doing to our innards: high blood pressure, liver damage, heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, apocalyptic teeth…Then there are the tales of sugar’s evil moreishness. Once startling study found that lab rats would choose sugar over cocaine – even when they were already addicted to cocaine.
When it comes to sugar, in this case, you can believe the hype… within reason. “Too much sugar in the diet means too many kilojoules, which leads to weight gain”, says Dr Varney. “That makes you more prone to developing life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers”. But it’s not all bad. “There’s no evidence to suggest we should remove sugar from out diet”, Dr Varney continues.
“We needn’t worry about the sugars found in dairy, fruit and vegetables, but we need to cut down on added sugars, as well as the sugars contained in honey, syrups and fruit juice-known as ‘free sugars’.
Adults should be consuming no more than 30g of free sugars a day. Bad news for your meal-a-deal: that’s roughly one Bar One or a 330ml glass of orange juice per day.
Is sugar the new smoking? It looks like it, unfortunately. It may also be the new crack.
Ready to get healthy? These 6 daily habits could be just as bad as smoking. Eek!