Tobacco, alcohol and processed food industries – Why are they viewed so differently?

Katherine Smith           November 18, 2015

Cross-posted from Policy and Politics Blog

One of the few indisputable truths in life is that we will all, eventually, die but what we will die of, and at what age, is changing across the world, with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) increasingly accounting for excessive morbidity and mortality burdens. The growing prevalence of NCDs is triggering substantial policy concern, evident, for example, in the 2011 UN high level meeting on NCDs. Yet, it is clear there are very different ways of thinking about this ‘epidemiological transition’: it has been framed, on the one hand, as a consequence of the choices that individuals make and, on the other, as a consequence of the strategies that corporations pursue.

Continue reading Tobacco, alcohol and processed food industries – Why are they viewed so differently?

Look what is being sold to kids when they are in school

by Faith Boninger and Alex Molnar 

Cross-posted from The Conversation

Students are greeted these days with a barrage of marketing and advertising as they enter the school year. And there is no let-up. The ads are all over.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) found ads in corridors, on scoreboards and vending machines, and inserted in the curricula through supplementary educational materials. They were on school equipment (eg, uniforms, cups, water coolers, beverage cases, food display racks) and on school buses. Ads were also put out through school newspapers, yearbooks and the school radio stations.

Continue reading Look what is being sold to kids when they are in school

TPP Caves to the Tobacco Industry, Threatens Public Health

Ellen R. Shaffer, Joseph E. Brenner   Nov. 6, 2015               Cross-posted from CPATH

The vacuous “tobacco control” provision in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) virtually capitulates to the demands of multinational tobacco corporations, jeopardizing nations’ health and economic welfare.  Public health and medical advocates in the U.S. and abroad consistently urged negotiators to exclude tobacco control protections from trade challenges under the TPP.  But tobacco industry opposition won the day, bolstered by corporate allies concerned that addressing the uniquely lethal effects of tobacco in trade agreements could set a precedent for reining in their own practices.

Continue reading TPP Caves to the Tobacco Industry, Threatens Public Health

Here’s how Congress can prevent 200,000 deaths

By Nicholas Freudenberg – Cross-posted from The Hill

Want to prevent more than 200,000 premature deaths among Americans born between 2000 and 2019? The answer seems like a no-brainer. Last week, Senate Democrats made a proposal that would do just that – raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco to age 21.

The Institute of Medicine, an independent research group established to advise Congress on science-based policy, estimated that the lives of 223,000 young people born after 2000 would be extended by raising the purchase age to 21. About 700 kids under the age of 18 become regular smokers each day, and one in three will eventually die as result. Raising the age would restrict access to tobacco to young people directly and indirectly by making it more difficult for younger smokers to find older peers to buy cigarettes for them. Raising the smoking age would save taxpayer money, too. Although the law would decrease tobacco sales, savings in health care would more than cover the cost. An analysis by the California legislature calculated that the loss of $68 million a year in sales tax revenue would be offset by health care saving as high as $2 billion a year. That means a return of almost $30 for every $1 of forgone revenue.

A public opinion poll by the CDC last year showed that 75 percent of citizens favor the proposal to raise the act. At least 90 localities in eight states, including New York City, and the state of Hawaii have already raised the tobacco sales age to 21. Statewide legislation to do so is being considered in several states, including California and Pennsylvania.

Despite life and cost savings, there are opponents of the change. Some claim it interferes with individual freedom. “If you’re old enough to fight and die for your country at age 18, you ought to be able to make the choice of whether you want to purchase a legal product or not,” said one lobbyist who testified against the California bill. The Hawaii Chamber of Commerce opposed the measure there, fearing it would harm business. And the president of the California Retailers Association warned that raising the smoking age would simply drive young people to the black market. For the tobacco industry, raising the purchase age would deprive Big Tobacco of its most lucrative source of new nicotine addicts, a prerequisite for its long term survival in the U.S. market.

This debate raises fundamental questions. Does government have the obligation and authority to set limits on substances like nicotine, sugary beverages and alcohol – the leading causes of the global epidemics of chronic diseases? Or should the market leave it to consumers and parents to protect themselves and their children against the marketing of the lethal but legal products of Big Tobacco, Big Soda and Big Alcohol? In the case of the proposed rule on tobacco purchase age, more than 200,000 lives depend on how Congress answers these questions.

Corporate Portrayals and Perceptions in Public Health Debates

At the Eighth European Public Health Conference in Milan, Italy last week, public health researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom examined how portrayals of corporate practices that influenced health are portrayed in the media in the United States and Europe and how public health professionals and policy makers perceive the role of the alcohol, tobacco and food industries in shaping public policy. The session was sponsored by the University of Glasgow Social and Public Health Sciences Unit and the journal Policy &Politics. The presentations included:

Nicholas Freudenberg
Lori Dorfman
Ben Hawkins
Left to right: Oliver Razum, Katherine Smith, Shona Hilton
Left to right: Oliver Razum, Katherine Smith, Shona Hilton


Nicholas Freudenberg (USA). The Influence of Corporate Business and Political Practices on NCD Risk. Download his presentation.

Heide Weishaar (UK) and Katherine Smith (UK). Better the devil you (don’t) know? A comparison of the tobacco, alcohol and processed food industries’ perceived political legitimacy. Download their presentation.

Lori Dorfman (USA). US news coverage of corporate actors in food and beverage policy debates. Download her presentation.

Benjamin Hawkins (UK). also presented on Tensions and contractions in policy discourses and media coverage of the alcohol industry.   You can read about his work here.

The session was chaired by Oliver Razum from Germany.


Media coverage of legal basis for sustainability in dietary guidelines

By Michele Simon, Cross-posted from Eat Drink Politics

As I posted last week, I conducted a legal analysis to counter the claim that considerations of environmental sustainability do not belong in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The same week, the USDA and HHS announced they would exclude sustainability from the final document not yet out, despite the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations that eating less meat and more plants is best, both for our own health and that of the planet.

Below is a media round-up of coverage of my analysis.

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Why VW and Johnson & Johnson Crossed the Line: Towards a Theory of Corporate Law Breaking

By Nicholas Freudenberg, Founder, Corporations and Health Watch

Readers of Corporations and Health Watch are familiar with the argument that the corporate practices that harm health are for the most part perfectly legal. However, recent media coverage of the scandals at Volkswagen and Johnson & Johnson led me to ask why some businesses choose to break the law. In the first, documented thoroughly in Steven Brill’s 15 chapter “docuserial” America’s Most Admired Lawbreaker posted last month on the Huffington Post Highline, the drug and medical device maker Johnson and Johnson (J&J) promoted Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug approved by the FDA for treating schizophrenia to children and older people for a much wider set of indications than those approved by the FDA. In 2013, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay more than $2.2 billion in criminal and civil fines to settle accusations that it improperly promoted Risperdal.

Risperdal Continue reading Why VW and Johnson & Johnson Crossed the Line: Towards a Theory of Corporate Law Breaking

Tracking the Effects of Corporate Practices on Health