Claim: Eating Banku wrapped in polythene bags is equal to smoking 135 sticks of cigarettes
Although it is established that using plastic as food packaging is harmful to consumers, it is unclear how doing so is equivalent to smoking cigarettes.
A report shared by a Facebook user claims that eating banku, a local fermented corn and cassava based food wrapped in polythene, is equivalent to smoking 135 sticks of cigarettes.
Initial investigations reveal that this claim has been seen making its rounds online. With this re-circulation, the discussion has picked up again with over 300 comments and 148 shares so far.
Dubawa takes a look at the dangers of wrapping banku in rubber to find out if indeed it amounts to smoking 135 cigarette sticks.
Further search by Dubawa revealed that the claim made its rounds some years ago and has been dug up again. In 2017, Yen.com published an article that stated that wrapping banku with polythene equals smoking cigars. In their report, they cited one Dominic Gyamfi, a researcher at the University of Ghana Medical School for making the statement. The difference however is that Dominic is alleged to have made mention of 136 sticks of cigarettes as opposed to the 135 mentioned in the recent post.
Attempts to reach the purported source of the original claim, Dominic Gyamfi, have been unsuccessful. His input will be recorded and the report updated as soon as there is success in that regard.
However, Dubawa spoke to Dr. Bismark Dwobeng, a Radiation Oncologist at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital to find out if he had come across the claim or any research in that regard. He said he had not heard of the claim nor come across any research that suggests the relation to eating banku wrapped in plastic and smoking 135 sticks of cigarettes.
The similarity between cigarettes and plastic bags.
We found that Cigarette butts or filters are made with plastic!
The filters at the base of a cigarette are made with plastic and are sometimes made from “recycled common plastic terephthalate(PET) from fizzy drinks bottles into membranes for filtration, including cigarette filter tips.”
Studies have found that cigarette butts are toxic even after being extinguished. Butt emissions as they are called contain carcinogens, nicotine, and toxins found in all tobacco products. An article by newscientist.com also suggests that a single cigarette butt that is soaked in a litre of water for 96 hours leaches out enough toxins to kill half of the fresh or saltwater fish exposed to them.
Existing Evidence on the dangers of plastic food packaging
Widely published literature on the dangers of using plastics in food packaging exists.
An article by health.harvard.edu which features an interview with Dr. Russ Hauser, Chairperson of the Department of Environmental Health, and Frederick Lee Hisaw, Professor of Reproductive Physiology at Harvard University Public Health department, Havard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, sheds light on some different types of plastics, based on their composition:
- Polyethylene terephthalate
All these types of plastic contain a variety of chemicals that have different properties like colorants, antioxidants and plasticizers. The possibility of harm being caused to humans who are exposed to the many chemicals within these plastics is high, especially over an extended period of contact albeit in “very low-dose chemical exposures.”
Key among the chemical components that are regarded very harmful to humans, according to Dr. Hauser, are phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), both of which are endocrine disruptors. These substances interfere with the actions of human hormones.
Phthalates are used to make plastics more flexible and can be found in plastic wraps and food packaging within which the plastics bags used in wrapping banku can be found. Other studies also suggest decreased fertility, neurodevelopmental issues, and asthma in humans because of links to the presence of phthalates.
Cigarette butts/filters on the other hand are made of a type of plastics called, cellulose acetate which constitutes 95% of the butt. The remaining 5% is made up of papers and rayon. The cellulose acetate tow fibers are thinner than sewing thread, white, and packed tightly together to create a filter that can look like cotton.
In April 2019, a Graphic report provided expert views on the dangers of packaging food in plastic,
Mr. Kofi Essel, the Head of the Food Inspectorate Division of the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), stated in the report that eating from polythene regularly can cause cancer in the stomach because particles from the plastic can get into the food.
“Most people are careless or ignorant of the health implications of this act. Chemicals from polythene often leach into foods, especially chemicals can easily dissolve into cooked oily foods, and this can have serious health implications on consumers”, Mr Essel is quoted to have said.
This was also corroborated by the Chairperson of the Media and Apologetics Committee of the Ghana Dietetics Association and a lecturer at the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS), Nana Kofi Owusu, and a lab Technician from MEDILAB, Ms Gloria Tamaklo.
The Math: Questions that arise from the claim, leaving gaps in context.
- Is one ball of plastic-wrapped banku equal to the suggested 135 sticks of cigarette smoked or does the quantity of plastic wrapped banku balls consumed affect the relation to cigarette sticks smoked?
- Does the toxicity content of one plastic bag or plastic wrap equate the toxicity content of 135 cigarette butts?
So far, we have not come across any research that calculates the toxicity content of both subjects in question in order to provide empirical evidence. The claim can therefore not be readily proven.
Although it has been established that putting consumables into plastics can be harmful to the body, it remains unclear whether eating banku wrapped in plastic equates to smoking 135 or 136 sticks of cigarettes.