On Jan. 17, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Surgeon General’s first report about health hazards of cigarette smoking, the office released a report linking smoking to several new chronic diseases. In addition to the previously known problems — lung and oral cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease — the new diseases include diabetes, erectile dysfunction, cancer of the colon and liver, and stroke.

The parallels between cigarette smoking and meat consumption are uncanny:

• The chronic diseases linked to both activities and the associated costs of medical care and lost productivity are comparable.

• The first government reports warning consumers about health hazards of cigarette smoking and meat consumption were issued in 1964 (by the surgeon general) and in 1977 (by the Senate Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs), respectively.

• The first warning labels on cigarette and meat packaging were required in 1966 and 1994, respectively.

• Both activities are discouraged by health advocates and both are declining.

One important difference exists however: The meat industry affects more state economies with stronger congressional clout than the tobacco industry. Consequently, a surgeon general’s report about the hazards of meat consumption is most unlikely.

Our health remains our personal responsibility.

Wes MuirlandWaterville