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Reblogged:No: French Fries Aren't Cigarettes. Next.

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Among the legion panics mongered via TikTok is one that sounds like such a perfect hybrid of earworm and "eight glasses of water a day"-type garbage folk wisdom that "helpful" busybodies latch onto that I am sure I'll hear it at least seventy times over the next month.

The title of a nice piece of debunkery (HT: Genetic Literacy Project) contains the fallacy: "No, Eating French Fries Is Not the Same as Smoking Cigarettes."

A psychiatrist, one Paul Saladino, is responsible for arming your local Commander Clueless with this cute cudgel:
NOT "Cancer Sticks" (Image by Design Wala, via Unsplash, license.
Saladino's pseudoscientific rants were brought to my attention by a former student who now teaches science in Germany. He was asked by one of his students about a video in which Saladino claims that eating a serving of McDonald's fries is equivalent to smoking a pack of 25 cigarettes.

The stimulus for this video seems to be a paper that Saladino read but was unable to properly digest. It discussed similarities between the chemical content of french fries and tobacco smoke and noted that a serving of fries can contain some carcinogenic aldehydes in amounts comparable with that found in the smoke from 25 cigarettes. In no way did the authors suggest that the risks were comparable.

Let's note right away that there is a big difference between inhaling or ingesting a substance
. Inhalation leads to direct entry into the bloodstream, while the digestive tract contains numerous enzymes that metabolize food components.

Next, tobacco smoke contains thousands of compounds... [bold added]
I can't resist the temptation to suggest that perhaps Saladino failed to "digest" the paper properly because he inhaled it.


That said, the whole article is worth a read just to see how wildly unwarranted Saladino is to conclude that fries are that dangerous on the strength of a myopic comparison of their chemical contents yanked out of the context of the paper and, as science writer Joe Schwarcz demonstrates, even such commonsense knowledge of the difference between breathing and eating, and cigarettes and fries.

You're welcome in advance for today's installment of expertise should be digested, and not inhaled.

-- CAV

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