A Sign of Things to Come? Expanding the Tobacco Industry Lawsuits Against All Industry

by | Feb 20, 2002

Let’s face it, we’re too damn fat and, this being America, someone should be sued! Professor Marion Nestle at New York University provides the target: “The function of the food industry is to get people to eat more, not less. It’s not fair.” It’s Big Chocolate, in short, no different than Big Tobacco. Either way, […]

Let’s face it, we’re too damn fat and, this being America, someone should be sued! Professor Marion Nestle at New York University provides the target: “The function of the food industry is to get people to eat more, not less. It’s not fair.”

It’s Big Chocolate, in short, no different than Big Tobacco. Either way, as professor Nestle sees it, it’s not our fault: We’re the dumb pawns, somebody’s got deep pockets, and it’s time to call in the lawyers. “There’s a lot of people who benefit from people being fat and sick, and the whole setup is designed to make people eat more,” says Nestle. “The response to the food industry should be very similar to what happened with the tobacco companies.”

George Washington University Law School professor John Banzhaf tells FOX News much the same thing: “As we’re getting more and more figures saying just how dangerous obesity is, people are wondering if tactics used against the tobacco industry very successfully and other problems such as guns less successfully could be used against the problem of obesity.”

At ABC News, reporter Geraldine Sealey seems to be recommending some affirmative action by the government when it comes to filling the slots in America’s vending machines: “So we’re fat — 61 percent of us. Potential regulations could include requiring ‘equal time’ for junk food and healthy food in vending machines.”

Tom Farley at the Tulane University School goes further, suggesting that we should just demonize the machines: “I want to get to the point where people are in the hallway and see a vending machine and say, ‘That’s bad, that shouldn’t be there,’ in the same way as if they saw a cigarette vending machine.”

Who’s surprised? We should have known that M & Ms would end up in the same boat as Marlboros back when the parents of 27-year-old drifter Daniel Dukes sued Sea World. Dukes, coming off a string of arrests for dope and shoplifting, evidently evaded after-hours security at the Florida theme park and decided to do some skinny dipping in 7 million gallons of ice-cold water with Tilikum, the largest killer whale in captivity.

A medical examiner said Dukes died of hypothermia. The parents’ lawyer said there weren’t any warning labels — no warnings about the downside of jumping into frigid water with a 5-ton killer whale, and nothing about killer whales being “extremely dangerous.” Instead, Sea World portrayed Tilikum as “huggable.”

The same “negligence” argument, of course, can be made about that store at the mall with the giant pile of whopper-sized sticky buns. Where’s the warning about our own buns becoming whopper-sized? Where’s the grim warning about 300,000 American deaths per year from fat-related causes, six times the total number of American deaths in 10 years of Vietnam?

“You’re asking people to control what they eat when the food industry spends $30 billion and more on marketing designed to make them eat more,” says professor Nestle. Exactly! It’s called individual responsibility. Archaic as that concept might sound in Ms. Nestle’s milieu at the university, it means that we’re not a nation of corks on the ocean, bobbing helplessly along under the control of some outside force. It means that we’re accountable, not some vending machine. It means that when we’re late for work, it’s not a case of “lateness syndrome” under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We have, of course, been steadily slipping away from that ideal of American character, as Charles J. Sykes so capably documented in A Nation of Victims: “An FBI agent embezzles $2,000 from the government and then loses all of it in an afternoon of gambling in Atlantic City. He is fired but wins reinstatement after a court rules that his affinity for gambling with other people’s money is a ‘handicap’ and thus protected under federal law. In Framingham, Massachusetts, a young man steals a car from a parking lot and is killed while driving it. His family then sues the proprietor of the parking lot for failing to take steps to prevent such thefts.”

There’s a handbook at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, reports Sykes, that lists words that are to be shunned, lest anyone get too nervous or litigious. “Gyp” might offend Gypsies. Use of the words “burly,” “glamorous” and “Ugh!,” respectively, is racist, sexist and anti-Apache. Sykes calls it the “Revolution of Rising Sensitivities” where resentments are weapons and deficiencies become entitlements.

At the end of January, a Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed that $8,000 had been spent for curtains to conceal two giant Art Deco statues of semi-nude figures in the building’s Great Hall. The 1930s era female statue representing the “Spirit of Justice” wears a toga-style garment with one breast exposed. Her male counterpart representing the “Majesty of the Law” wears a cloth around his waist. Explained Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock, “It was done for TV aesthetics.” It was done, in other words, as with Gyp, to do away with any chance of grievance among the most easily offended.

In his First Inaugural Address, Thomas Jefferson put forth a vision of a people “free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.” Translated, I’d say that means we needn’t be shielded from half-naked Art Deco statues, market-driven vending machines, theme parks, “glamorous,” “burly,” or whopper-sized sticky buns.

Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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