Despite our breakfast of chicken-fried bacon-wrapped sausage, Cracked cares about your health. We may treat our bodies like a dilapidated temple being pillaged by Indiana Jones, but we want you to have a long, healthy life full of happiness and time spent reading our website. So please keep in mind that…
Unless you're watching a cooking show while you read this, you probably don't have a strong opinion on gas stoves versus electric ones. But the gas industry sure wants you in their corner; in 2020, a PR employee joined Nextdoor communities in California and, while pretending to be a local, encouraged people to complain about potential new building codes that would discourage gas lines. Gas, in the opinion of this totally everyday concerned citizen, simply cooked better.
2020 also saw a utility workers union shut down a municipal vote on a new energy code by threatening to bus in hundreds of protestors who would explicitly ignore COVID precautions, as well as some intense advertising, robocalling, and lobbying efforts meant to paint electric as too expensive. Gas' blood feud with electricity has dragged on for generations – in the 1930s, ads embraced the phrase "natural gas" because it sounded magically cleaner than other fossil fuels. But threatening COVID risks and lying on social media to the kind of people who freak out about mailbox colors is an insane escalation in response to the fact that, while more American homes use gas stoves than ever before, efforts to phase them out have never been stronger. And that's because they suck.
Aside from their notable climate change contribution, more and more studies are linking gas stoves to health problems. Children in gas stove homes, for example, are 42% more likely to have asthma than their electric neighbors, because their homes have as much as 400% more nitrogen dioxide in them. NO2 is linked to a variety of respiratory, heart, and cognitive problems, and when you throw in gas' carbon monoxide too an hour of cooking can lower indoor air quality to levels that would be illegal outdoors. A University of Colorado engineer compared cooking with gas to running a car inside and, not coincidentally, the gas industry has long resisted efforts to federally regulate gas stove emissions.
An exhaust hood eliminates these risks, but there are no laws requiring them and many Americans can't afford one anyway. No, you don't have to run and smash all your windows open before tonight's Kraft Dinner melts your brain, but electric is pretty clearly the safer option for both people and the planet.
In response, the gas industry has pivoted from decades of downplaying the health risks into avoiding the subject entirely. Now they're trying to make gas a sign of trendy affluence, which is why they've been hiring social media influencers to espouse its wonders. So if a fashion blogger you follow is suddenly going on about their awesome stove or cozy new fireplace, there's probably a sack with a dollar sign just off-camera. And portraying gas ovens as the "cool" culinary method somehow isn't new either, so please enjoy "Rappin' With Gas," a 1988 industry ad made by people introduced to the concept of rap 30 seconds before recording began.
New Yorkers love to brag about what makes their city distinct, so here's a freebie: their subways are the most polluted in America. They're not alone, though; a study of 71 subway stations in New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia found unsafe levels of air pollution everywhere. New York was the worst, while Philadelphia was "comparatively, the cleanest system," words that have never before been spoken.
The study sought out PM2.5, a catch-all term for particles about 30 times smaller than a strand of hair. In subways, they're probably produced by the grinding of wheels on rails and various maintenance efforts, but regardless of their source they're too small to be seen yet can be inhaled and cause damage. And Manhattan's Christopher Street station had a PM2.5 concentration 42 times worse than EPA standards, the equivalent of a bad smog day in Beijing. While that was a lowlight, other stations were two to seven times worse than what's considered safe to breathe.
PM2.5 exposure is linked to an increase in cardiovascular mortality, so there are concerns about the long-term health of transit workers and regular commuters. Not every subway system is a problem, and more research is needed into the pollution's source and consequences, but it's definitely what scientists would call "not cool."
This isn't to say that mass transportation should be abandoned in favor of returning to horse-drawn carriages, but it's something to keep in mind for those long commutes. New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority is looking into improved air filtration systems, and in the meantime it's been suggested that subway riders should wear masks. You know, just in case you weren't sick of them yet.
So the subway is a mess, and even at the best of times you still have to put up with the guy who thinks the whole world wants to hear him play Age of Epic Raid Legend Kings on his phone. But who even needs it as long as you have the humble chariot that is your 2003 Honda Civic, right? Just pop in that old Sean Paul CD and follow the road.
But a meta-analysis from California, the state where going to 7-11 somehow requires a 45 minute drive on the interstate, found that the average commute comes with a 10% chance of inhaling unsafe levels of benzene, formaldehyde, and other carcinogens. These come from the various rubbers, fabrics, glues, and paints used to assemble your car, which often go unstudied and unregulated.
There are a few disclaimers here, including that the problem is at its worst in the car's first six months (new car smell is the delicious scent of potential birth defects), and that government regulations are starting to address these issues, prompting car manufacturers to use cleaner materials and provide better ventilation. Interior temperature and car make are also a factor; driving a 1987 Ford Cancer King through Death Valley will expose you to more crud than cruising through Winnipeg in a 2022 Kia Treeboner.
So you don't have to start getting up at four in the morning for your daily half-marathon to work. But if you live in a land of lengthy commutes (California's average trip to work is 30 minutes and rising, and 1.5 million Californians spend over two hours a day in their car), it doesn't hurt to crack the windows, especially if the car is new. Oh, and uh, try not to inhale too many traffic fumes – there's a "significant association" between people who spend all day in and around cars, like taxi and bus drivers, and various forms of cancer. Driving a taxi is also linked to bladder cancer and other pee-related woes thanks to a lack of easily accessible public bathrooms, so make sure your drain the tank before you start your commute.
It might not shock you to learn that alcohol consumption is linked to cancer, but if so, you're in the minority. It's estimated that seven out of 10 Americans are unaware of the connection, and the booze industry is happy to keep it that way. Industry associations are using the same playbook that tobacco companies once employed; flattering studies about the ostensible health benefits of alcohol have been commissioned, government campaigns encouraging people to drink less have been lambasted, and misinformation about alcohol and cancer gets spread online.
But the link is about as well-established as anything in medical science. We realize we're starting to sound like scolds here, so let us reassure you that we're writing this while sloshed on a bottle of Cutty Sark we found in the parking lot. But evidence is evidence no matter how delicious our famous White Kentuckians (vodka and KFC gravy) are.
Aside from industry efforts, much of the disconnect between perception and reality comes from the apparent myth that moderate alcohol consumption is good for you. While that idea continues to float around, it's been questioned by a meta-analysis which found that studies suggesting alcohol had health benefits used a flawed methodology that lumped people who'd quit drinking in with teetotalers. Account for that, and any supposed benefits vanish like all the good ideas we had four beers into the evening.
So are we all doomed to a bland, disgusting world where we have to socialize without the aid of beer? No, but you should probably be cutting back. Researchers have suggested that the CDC's current recommended maximum limit of two drinks a day for men should be lowered to one (the recommendation for women is already one), and there's been a push to add or update warning labels on alcohol. The alcohol industry has fought both ideas hard with junk science, at one point killing a Canadian warning label pilot project. But even routine light drinking is linked to cancer and cardiovascular issues, and alcohol is one of the top sources of cancer worldwide.
In one of the industry's grosser efforts, the canard that moderate consumption is healthy has been used to advertise "pinkwashed" wine that throws a bit of money at breast cancer research, the very disease that wine consumption contributes to. England's chief medical officer has pointed out that, if you take 1,000 women (like, hypothetically, not by force), 110 will get breast cancer because the universe said so, light drinking will add 20 victims, and moderate drinking another 50. Men face similar numbers with bowel cancer. They're not the worst odds, but you still wouldn't want to win that particular lottery.
The odd drink isn't the end of the world, especially if you're otherwise enjoying a healthy lifestyle. There's always more research to be done, and future studies hope to include factors like diet, exercise, and access to healthcare. Just remember that when you hear drinking is actually good for your heart, the message is probably coming from someone who wants you to buy a bunch of garbage vodka coolers.
Top image: Hedgehog94, Marian Weyo/Shutterstock