FD Buyer: Food – The New Tobacco?
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Frozen & Dairy Buyer magazine.
"We’ve done this before, with tobacco," wrote Mark Bittman, The New York Times food columnist, in a late-September opinion piece. Mr. Bittman made clear that health activists will use a heavy dose of scare tactics and equate eating with smoking cigarettes to further their cause. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. For some time now, activists have signaled their intent to equate food with tobacco.
Just last month, the Center for Science in the Public Interest dismissed food industry complaints over "voluntary" federal restrictions on marketing food to youth, saying the restrictions are no more mandatory than guidelines prohibiting smoking scenes in G-rated movies.
Writing for The Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson recently noted that health care costs average 42 percent higher for obese people than for those of normal weight. Just as smoking-related illnesses cost federal and state health insurance programs and private insurers billions of dollars each year, the argument goes, so too is the simple act of eating proving to be a massive financial drain on taxpayers and ratepayers. Hence, activists justify calling on the government to regulate all aspects of eating and food marketing, just like smoking and tobacco.
Of course, it’s not that simple. People have to eat for nourishment. They don’t have to smoke. Obesity is fueled by many factors, including insufficient physical activity, genetics and limited access to foods that comprise a balanced diet.
So, what can the food industry expect? In 1998, tobacco manufacturers settled with 46 attorneys general after agreeing to pay more than $200 billion over a 25-year period.
How long before financially strapped states unleash their attorneys general on the food industry? How much ground are food manufacturers and retailers willing to cede to our critics before recognizing that the more they get, the more they want?
America has an obesity epidemic with significant human and financial costs. There is no denying that. However, we must reject attempts to place all the blame on our doorstep. The food industry must refute efforts to link eating with smoking. Yes, it’s an absurd argument, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t already begun to resonate with the public and policymakers.
Efforts to brand food products with grotesque graphic health warnings, subject certain foods to punitive taxes and forbid manufacturers and retailers from communicating with consumers are already underway. If some or all of these initiatives come to pass, at least we won’t be lonely. We can always strike up a conversation with some tobacco executives. They may be the only ones who’ll talk to us.
Discussion Questions: What’s the likelihood that health advocates will equate the dangers in eating some foods to that of cigarettes? How should the food industry respond?