Friday, July 25, 2008

Lycopene and Nicotine

I was listening to a discussion on NPR last week about the recent outbreak of E. coli in certain crops of tomatoes and other plants, which have caused some consumers to become deathly ill. Subsequent to this epidemic, tomato markets across the country have nearly bottomed out and left many single-crop farmers hanging by a thread. One commentator mentioned that what has actually been so detrimental to the market was not the actual risk assumed when buying tomatoes, but the perceived risk. Although the E. coli occurred in relatively few select crops which were consumed by a comparatively small group of tomato-eating individuals (who happened to become very notably ill), consumers across the board, perceiving a high level of tomato-consumption-associated risk, stopped buying tomatoes. They made this decision even though their risk of tomato-contracted illness was slim to none.

I found this interesting in light of the success of certain markets with products boasting high levels of consumption as well as high levels of actual risk - namely cigarettes. Ultimately, a person is much more likely to develop serious and possibly lethal health complications from smoking cigarettes than he or she would be to consume a contaminated tomato and subsequently contract E. coli. Furthermore, the health risks associated with cigarette smoke are printed boldly on every box of cancer sticks sold; they can't be missed. This risk is not only perceived, but acutal, known, clinically documented. And yet, most people don't seem eager to bring down the cigarette market because is is harmful. But God help them if they should buy tomatoes!

Where (aside from the addiction factor of cigarettes) is the logic here?

What are the odds?