Food is not tobacco. But, as we have reported over the past several months, the campaign to treat restaurant food like tobacco — to restrict where it is sold, regulate it, tax it to reduce “use,” ban advertising, and impose “zoning restrictions” on restaurants — is gaining steam.
“People are wondering if tactics used against the tobacco industry very successfully… could be used against the problem of obesity,” says John Banzhaf, who heads the how-to-sue organization Action on Smoking and Health. Banzhaf has been eyeing restaurants lately, and has said, “As we’ve done with regard to cigarettes, [we could] put a higher tax on foods… using that money to perhaps promote healthier eating. Now this is what we do with smoking.”
Anti-consumer rhetoric linking foods Americans like to tobacco, and claiming that restaurant food represents a threat to consumers, has infested the media. Here’s just some of the latest:
“All Ages Addicted to ‘Junk’ Food,” screams a UPI headline — implying that enjoying an occasional snack treat is the equivalent of using dangerous illegal drugs. The wire service says “the ‘junk’ food habit” is “padding the way to a growing obesity epidemic.”
The New York Post calls America a nation of “Junk-Food Junkies,” saying “Americans are pigging out on more junk food than ever before.”
The San Antonio Express-News writes that a “Twinkie tax” must force us “to pay for our poor eating habits” because “obesity is spreading across America like a cancer, taking its toll on our health and pocketbooks.” Columnist Claudia Zapata favorably cites the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s call for sin taxes on “sinfully good” snacks.
In an indicator of coming efforts to change the environment of eating to overcome the “epidemic,” The Albuquerque Journal‘s Lance Chilton writes: “My dictionary defines ‘epidemic’ as ‘attacking or affecting many individuals in a community or population simultaneously’… Obesity is not infectious, but it certainly is acting as if it were!”
“Controlling kids has become a national priority for schools,” Fox News reports, and now, Texas is taking that to the lunch table. “School officials in Texas have laid down the law on sugary snacks, banning
so-called junk food from school cafeterias.” In so doing, the state is trying to usurp the role of parents, by taking away the authority of the most basic control: what their children should eat.
And The New Republic draws the bottom line: “The War on Tobacco Becomes the War on Fat.” The piece quotes Ann Thacher, chief of health promotion and chronic disease prevention for the state of Rhode Island: “‘The focus on individual behavior change — like billboard campaigns saying ‘Reduce fat in your diet’ — has proved ineffective,’ says Thacher. As a result, the public health community is looking more and more toward ‘environmental’ solutions. This sort of ‘encouragement,’ of course, would require a wave of new policymaking: new zoning ordinances, new building codes, new education, transportation and public health mandates, and, of course, new taxes. It would also require a fundamental shift in the way people think about food.”
The New Republic concludes: “Slippery-slope arguments are usually specious, and until recently the fat-tobacco analogy… seemed so as well. But, in fact, we are on the exact slope they claimed, and we are picking up speed. Somewhere, Joe Camel is laughing.” Or, in Banzhaf’s words: “People… are concerned that we are going to succeed in these [lawsuits] as we did in the tobacco area. And maybe we will. Time will tell.”