Tuesday, June 09, 2009

What the American Beverage Association and Philip Morris have in common.

There was a letter to the editor in yesterday's New York Times. The letter was written by Ms. Susan K. Neely, the President of the American Beverage Association. According to their website the ABA`s members,

"market hundreds of brands, flavors and packages, including regular and diet soft drinks, bottled water and water beverages, 100-percent juice and juice drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and ready-to-drink teas."
Susan was writing in response to an editorial where the New York Times called on the imposition of an excise tax on sugary beverages given their clear cut linkage to obesity and their dearth of health benefits.

Those madmen!

In any case, Susan was understandably upset. You see Susan represents many of the beverages upon which such a tax would impact. So what did Sally do? She followed the Big Tobacco Playbook. If you'd like to read the playbook have a gander at Kelly Brownell and Kenneth Warner's recent paper, The Perils of Ignoring History: Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died. How Similar Is Big Food? in which the authors spell out how Big Tobacco's spin machine set out to delay the inevitable taxation and vilification of their product and then draw comparisons with Big Food.

According to Brownell and Warner if Big Food plays by Big Tobacco's rules these are the plays we'll be seeing (with excerpts from Sally's letter italicized throughout):

  • Focus on personal responsibility as the cause of the nation’s unhealthy diet.

  • Raise fears that government action usurps personal freedom.
    "There are better initiatives to tackle obesity than discriminatory taxes."
  • Vilify critics with totalitarian language, characterizing them as the food police, leaders of a nanny state, and even “food fascists,” and accuse them of desiring to strip people of their civil liberties.

  • Criticize studies that hurt industry as “junk science.”
    "As policy makers seek ways to finance health care reform, we encourage them to seek broad-based, equitable solutions based on science, economic realities and common sense."
  • Emphasize physical activity over diet.
    "Balancing calories consumed with those expended through physical activity is the critical factor in preventing obesity."
  • State there are no good or bad foods; hence no food or food type (soft drinks, fast foods, etc.) should be targeted for change.
    "Scientists agree that there is no single cause of obesity, and there will be no single solution. In fact, a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine reaffirms that calories are calories, regardless of their source. "
  • Plant doubt when concerns are raised about the industry.

  • Not bad Sally. You hit 4 of 7 plays in only 159 words!

    Thanks to the refreshments industry in both Canada and the US for providing such easy fodder for blogs.

    Oh and Brownell and Warner, you guys rock.

    Kelly D. Brownell, & Kenneth E. Warner (2009). Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died. How Similar Is Big Food? The Milbank Quarterly, 87 (1), 259-294 PMID: 19298423