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Jon Alexander is the opinon page editor for The Southern Illinoisan.

Hot dog makers, meat sellers shake off WHO cancer report

FILE - In this June 9, 2015 file photo, a young fan eats a hot dog before a baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros, in Chicago. On the eve of the World Series, where hot dogs are a staple in the stands, the World Health Organization on Monday, Oct. 26, 2015 labeled the all-American wiener, bacon and other processed meats as being "carcinogenic to humans." (AP Photo/David Banks, File)

Nothing beats that morning cigarette. 

I've been smoking for 15 years. Tears stream down my face each morning thanks to the uncontrollable hacking. The damage to my lungs is obvious whenever I tackle a steep grade on foot. And I'm keenly aware that smoking mutates key genes that should initiate "suicide" for rogue cells. Those rogue cells, left unchecked, are the basis for cancer.  

My repeated attempts to quit have all been miserable failures. Weary of the daily heaving, I pledge myself to kicking the habit. A few hours later, my head pulses. Thinking becomes almost impossible. Basically every activity is a reminder of just how good a cigarette feels. 

Those neurotransmitters sure add a sliver of peace to the world. 

Bacon too causes cancer, says the World Health Organization, although to a significantly lesser extent than cigarettes. The same goes for hot dogs. 

But there's always something missing from the growing lists of the potentially fatal: Life itself is a terminal disease. 

The WHO's analysis released this past week linked processed meats with colorectal cancer. That's lame enough on its own. But WHO scientists go on to conclude that red meats are "probably carcinogenic."

The WHO scientists admitted bacon's apparent danger isn't nearly as stark as that fantastic, yet awful little plant often grown in North Carolina. Sorry, vegan crowd, this isn't your magic bullet. That's especially true since, in recent years, bacon is trendy.

Add bacon to your meatloaf. It's better.

Add bacon to your mac and cheese. It's better.

Bacon isn't just a breakfast meat anymore, says hip society. Like that morning cigarette, which concurrently calms my soul and sickens my lungs, bacon is just so damned good. 

Americans now annually spend $4 billion on bacon, with sales exploding over the past decade, Bloomberg reports. Factor in the American love of hot dogs and bologna, and we're talking about staple foods in the U.S., which pump billions into agricultural economies. Illinois ranked fourth in the country in 2011 for pork production, reports Illinois Pork Producers.

The thing is, the cancer awareness racket is big business. Another October saw more athletes clad in random bits of pink gear, part of Breast Cancer Awareness month. The major sports leagues do pretty well slinging specialty pink jerseys. Some of the cash goes to actual research. Much of it pumps into league and administrative coffers.

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I've looked on as cancer consumed several of my relatives. There's no "comfort" at the end. It's a gruesome, undignified death. For too long, we've treated our sick dogs with more compassion than our dying relatives.

But the fact is, something is going to kill each of us. Longer lifespans require new vehicles of death. The end-game is all the same.

Reaching the ripe old age of 35 was tough 100,000 years ago. Be it a broken leg or a hungry lion, hunter-gatherers faced a hostile world every day. Millennia later, never-before-seen diseases and plagues, introduced by freshly domesticated livestock, swept through early agricultural populations. Droughts wiped out entire communities. Bloody tribal conflicts were the norm. 

Even in 1930, the average American man would only live to 58. He's now expected to see 77, says the Centers for Disease Control. And people wonder why the Social Security Administration, founded in 1935, is going broke. 

I will quit smoking. Each attempt to kick the addiction is a learning experience. A breakthrough isn't too far away. As I write this, I'm gnashing away on some nicotine gum. The morning gags are just too much. 

But I'll keep on eating bacon, hot dogs and red meat. I'll keep drinking whiskey. I'll continue to joyfully walk out into the sun's ultraviolet rays. I'll keep spiraling through the universe on a radioactive rock.

I'll keep living, which, in and of itself, will eventually kill me.

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