Opinion: Company for Big Bad Tobacco

POSTED: 02/13/13 12:38 PM

Big Tobacco has had a bad name for a long time, but now it has company of, one could say, Big Food and Big Alcohol. The three sectors use the same tactics and strategies to undermine public health – at least such is the conclusion from a global analysis conducted by the University of Melbourne. The authoritative medical magazine the Lancet published the results of the study.

One of the methods these industries use to undermine public health is by distorting research results, for instance by financing studies. Studies that are exclusively sponsored by companies in the food and alcohol industry have a four to eight times higher chance of containing conclusions that are favorable for the financial interests of the sponsoring company, that studies that were not financed by such companies.

International companies paid large sums of money to establish relationships with health authorities and they lobbied governments in attempts to block health regulations.

The study mentions as one example the powerful American Sugar Association that threatened to urge the /American government to diminish its contribution to the World Health Organization. The reason for the threat was a report the WHO published last week wherein it indicated that it wants to establish limits for the amount of added sugars to products.

“To deflect criticism companies promote actions outside of their territory,” the study notes. Tobacco companies support for instance the prevention of violence against women and producers of processed products emphasize the importance of exercise.

Europe spends public funds on anti-smoking campaigns, but at the same time it grants tobacco farmers in southern Europe subsidies. Just to show that apart from companies, politicians also play a dubious role.
But at the end of the day there is something those politicians, and the critics of Big
Tobacco, big food and big alcohol hardly ever talk about: personal responsibility. Yes, we read in advertisements drink responsible but there are few people who believe that the industry’s heart is in such messages that actually encourage people to drink less.

Big Tobacco has had to bear the brunt of all criticism and this has resulted in the obligation to put all kinds of horrible pictures on their packaging to discourage smoking. The latest example we noted in the supermarket this week is a picture of a young mother pushing an empty pram. The message is that smoking affects fertility.

At the end of the day we do not think the industry is too proud of the way it muscles its products into the market and onto consumers. But in this day and age it is no longer possible to ignore all the information that is out there about the effects of smoking, drinking and eating.

Who still remembers the documentary Supersize Me? In 2004 the independent film maker Morgan Spurlock feasted 30 days exclusively on fast food. The result: he gained more than eleven kilos, his cholesterol levels hit 230, his body mass index increased by 13 percent, he suffered from mood swings and sexual dysfunction and fat accumulation in his liver. It took Spurlock 14 months to lose the weight he gained during his experiment.

But does anybody really care? The fast food industry is alive and kicking, yet consumers are no longer able to say that they are unaware of the potential negative effect of fast food diets on their wellbeing.

The question is now: if these consumers don’t care, why should anybody else? The point is of course that all these supersized people sooner or later become a public health problem. That’s where the money from the tax payers comes in. Apparently, they don’t care either – or at least not enough about their fellow earthlings who smoke themselves to oblivion, feast on fast food until they burst and top it all off with a royal splash of offerings from Big Alcohol.

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