Lethal But Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health

By Nicholas Freudenberg published by Oxford University Press in February 2014 with paperback edition with a new  afterword by the author released in March 2016.

Lethal but Legal examines how corporations have shaped ― and damaged ― public health over the last century, first in industrialized countries and now in developing regions. It is both a current history of corporations’ antagonism towards health and an analysis of the emerging movements that are challenging these industries’ dangerous practices. The reforms outlined here aim to strike a healthier balance between large companies’ right to make a profit and governments’ responsibility to protect their populations. While other books have addressed parts of this story, Lethal but Legal is the first to connect the dots between unhealthy products, business-dominated politics, and the growing burdens of disease and health care costs. By identifying the common causes of all these problems, then situating them in the context of other health challenges that societies have overcome in the past, this book provides readers with the insights they need to take practical and effective action to restore consumers’ right to health. Nicholas Freudenberg, DrPH, is Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the City University of New York School of Public Health and founder and director of Corporations and Health Watch, an international network of activists and researchers that monitors the business practices of the alcohol, automobile, firearms, food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and tobacco industries.

“In his new book, “Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health” Freudenberg’s case is that the food industry is but one example of the threat to public health posed by what he calls “the corporate consumption complex,” an alliance of corporations, banks, marketers and others that essentially promote and benefit from unhealthy lifestyles. It sounds creepy; it is creepy. . Freudenberg details how six industries — food and beverage, tobacco, alcohol, firearms, pharmaceutical and automotive — use pretty much the same playbook to defend the sales of health-threatening products. This playbook, largely developed by the tobacco industry, disregards human health and poses greater threats to our existence than any communicable disease you can name.” – Mark Bittman, contributing op-ed writer, New York Times

“A superb, magnificently written, courageous, and compelling exposé of how corporations enrich themselves at the expense of public health—and how we can organize to counter corporate power and achieve a healthier and more sustainable food environment. This should be required reading for anyone who cares about promoting health, protecting democratic institutions, and achieving a more equitable and just society.” –Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University; author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.

In this century, it is estimated that one billion people will die prematurely because of tobacco use, according to “Lethal but Legal,” a smart new book about corporate irresponsibility by Nicholas Freudenberg, a professor of public health at City University of New York. Put that one billion in perspective. That’s more than five times as many people as died in all wars of the 20th century. Freudenberg notes that smoking grew in part because of deliberate manipulation of the manipulation of the public by tobacco companies. For example, tobacco executives realized that they could expand their profits if more women smoked, so they engineered a feminist-sounding campaign to get females hooked: “Women! Light another torch of freedom! Fight another sex taboo!”- Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times

“A reservoir of constructive indignation that can arouse all Americans who adhere to basic human values.” ―Ralph Nader

Nader Recommends New Book Lethal but Legal to Provoke Conversation in 2014

“Freudenberg is optimistic that, despite the enormity of the challenges facing us as we confront the power of the multinational companies, a tipping point will be reached when the many thousands of pro-health organizations around the world come together and create the political power—and therefore the political will—necessary for success. Lethal But Legal buoyed my optimism.” Robert Beaglehole, The Lancet

“A real eye-opener. Freudenberg lays out the labyrinth of connections between corporate misbehavior and the health of the world, then gives a roadmap to fix it. I love this book.” –Cheryl G. Healton, Director, NYU Global Institute of Public Health; former President and CEO, American Legacy Foundation

“After documenting how multinational corporations manipulate us into hyperconsumption, this book goes on to identify the strategies we can, together, use to liberate ourselves.” –Richard Wilkinson, Emeritus Professor of Social Epidemiology, University of Nottingham

Watch Marion Nestle, Professor  in Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU and Laura Berry, Executive Director of  the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility discuss Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health on CSPAN Books.

Lethal but Legal is available from:


Barnes and Noble

Oxford University Press