Daily Archives: March 20, 2009

Industry Self-Regulation as a Defense against Government Action

Industries under threat often claim that self-regulation is sufficient and that they deserve the public’s and government’s trust. Then they launch highly publicized pledges for change. Beginning with the “Frank Statement” made by tobacco companies in 1954 in which companies pledged, among other things, to “cooperate closely with those whose task it is to safeguard the public health,” the industry did its best to fight calls for strict regulation. A modern-day version is the Philip Morris television campaign focused on preventing youth from smoking. An outside evaluation found that it did no such thing and in fact might affect children in ways that would make them more likely to smoke. Nonindustry antismoking efforts, in comparison, have been successful with both youth and adult smokers.
The food industry is in full-scale pursuit of self-regulatory authority. The American Beverage Association,
in association with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, announced that it would reduce sales of traditional carbonated soft drinks in schools. Left untouched was an array of beverages whose sales are increasing, compared with the traditional carbonated beverages whose sales are declining. Another example is the announcement by a coalition of major food companies and the Council of Better Business Bureaus that their child-marketing practices would change.
The impact of these pledges on children’s dietary practices has not been established objectively, but to the extent the tobacco experience applies, there is reason to be on high alert. The child market for the food companies is enormous. American children, counting only those aged five to fourteen, spend $20 billion annually and influence the spending of $200 billion to $500 billion more. Some ad agencies specialize in children’s television marketing and others in product placements in children’s media, handbooks and conferences on child marketing, and prizes for the best marketing campaigns. In a book on industry self-regulation, Cashore, Auld, and Newsom note cases in which industry self-regulation has had beneficial effects, typically when an endangered resource is at stake and government inaction is a threat because rogue players threaten the industry’s survival. Two examples are marine fisheries and forests. When industries are under public relations threats and they worry that the government will be too
active, self-regulation is imposed in a different context. Cashore and colleagues underscore the importance of objective evaluation, not funded or conducted by industry, to establish the impact of pledges.

The Personal Responsibility Script

At the 1996 shareholders’ meeting of cigarette and food manufacturer RJRNabisco, a woman in the audience asked company chairman Charles Harper whether he would want people smoking around his children and grandchildren. Mr. Harper responded, “If the children don’t like to be in a smoky room . . . they’ll leave.” When the woman responded, “An infant cannot leave a room,” Mr. Harper answered, “At some point they learn to crawl, okay? And then they begin to walk”.
Personal responsibility has been invoked to shield the food industry from criticism, legislation, and litigation. Legislation sponsored by Congressman Ric Keller in 2004 to ban lawsuits claiming health damages against fast-food restaurants is typical in emphasizing personal behavior: “We’ve got to get back to those old-fashioned principles of personal responsibility, of common sense, and get away from this new culture where everybody plays the victim and blames other people for their problems”.When asked about the role of restaurants in contributing to the obesity problem, Steven Anderson, president of the National Restaurant Association stated, “Just because we have electricity doesn’t mean you have to electrocute yourself”. These assertions illustrate the execution of an organized corporate strategy that shifts responsibility from the parties who make and market products to those who use them. A variety of corollary messages are also typical of industry framing, namely, that companies offer choices and pleasure, emphasize moderation, and do not encourage consumers to overuse their products.

Obesity rates are highest in the poorest segments of the population.

Food, physical inactivity, and obesity may hart your health.
An astonishing two-thirds of the U.S. adult population is overweight
or obese. As with smoking, social justice issues are
prominent, given that obesity rates are highest in the poorest segments of
the population. But weight issues are hardly unique
to the United States. The World Health Organization has declared
obesity a global epidemic, now surpassing hunger as the chief nutrition
problem, even in some developing countries Obesity rates are especially troubling in children, rising at three
times the rate of increase in adults.
Indeed, the term adult onset diabetes has now been scrapped and replaced
with Type 2 diabetes because children as young as eight are developing
the disease. Canadian researchers conducted a fifteen-year follow-up of
children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and found an alarming rate in
young adults of blindness, amputation, kidney failure requiring dialysis,
pregnancy loss, and death. Health experts now
are asking whether America’s children will be the first in the nation’s
history to live shorter lives than their parents (Olshansky et al. 2005).
Such statistics worry people, leading the press, parent groups, school
officials, nutrition experts, health care providers, and government leaders
to conclude that something must be done. Caught in the crosshairs,
the food industry is reacting, sometimes with heavy ammunition. As
an example, in response to menu-labeling initiatives, the restaurant
industry has sued New York City, used its political might to weaken
legislation in California, and successfully encouraged federal legislators
to introduce weak national legislation that would preempt states and
cities from acting more aggressively.
There are striking similarities, and some differences, in the way the
food and tobacco industries have responded to public mistrust, damning
scientific evidence, and calls for legal and legislative actions. As an
important example of the similarities, food companies have issued their
own versions of frank statements, stating their concern with the public’s
well-being and pledging to make changes to benefit public health. In
this article we discuss what can be learned from tobacco and propose
what might be done to avoid the repetition of a deadly history

Major tobacco companies colaboration

In December 1953, the CEOs of the major tobacco
companies met secretly in New York City. Their purpose was to
counter the damage from studies linking smoking to lung cancer. A
year earlier Reader’s Digest—then the public’s leading source of medical
information—had printed an article entitled “Cancer by the Carton”.
After it appeared, cigarette sales plummeted for two years,
the first such decline of the century except during the Great Depression.
Working closely with John Hill, the founder of the public relations
giant Hill & Knowlton, the industry created “A Frank Statement to
Cigarette Smokers” and paid to have it published in 448 newspapers
on January 4, 1954. To give the industry a human face, the statement
included the signatures of the nation’s top tobacco executives and assured
Americans that “we accept an interest in people’s health as a basic
responsibility, paramount to every other consideration in our business.”
Furthermore, they promised that “we always have and always will cooperate
closely with those whose task it is to safeguard the public’s health”
(Tobacco Industry Research Committee 1954).
The “Frank Statement” was a charade, the first step in a concerted,
half-century-long campaign tomislead Americans about the catastrophic
effects of smoking and to avoid public policy that might damage sales.
Unearthed later, industry documents showed the repeated duplicity of
its executives. Everything was at stake. The industry wanted desperately
to prevent, or at least delay, shifts in public opinion that would permit
a barrage of legislative, regulatory, and legal actions that would erode
sales and profits.
Today another industry is under attack for marketing products perceived
by some to damage health, and it also faces legislative, regulatory,
and legal threats that could fundamentally alter how it does business.
Schools are banning soft drinks and snack foods; legislation requiring
calorie labels on restaurant menus has been passed at state and local
levels and is being considered nationally; restrictions in food marketing
practices have been proposed around the world; and even radical measures
such as taxing snack foods are part of the national debate. Suchactions invite comparison of the food and tobacco industries, exemplified
by a Fortune magazine cover story in 2003 entitled “Is Fat the Next
Tobacco?” The cover depicted a French fry lying in an ash tray as if it
were a cigarette. The article did what is now common—debate the parallels
between tobacco and food in the context of culpability for health
damage and ask whether Big Food should be sued for the same reasons
that Big Tobacco was.
There are, of course, differences between food and tobacco as substances.
The most obvious is that humans must eat to maintain health
and life, whereas the unnecessary activity of smoking is, in the words
of former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph Califano,
“slow-motion suicide.” Moreover, selling tobacco to children is illegal,
but there currently are no restrictions on food sales. Tobacco has a wellchronicled
addictive process, whereas research on food and addiction is
just now maturing. And although the fight against tobacco coalesced
around a single productmade by a few companies, food and its industries
are far more complex.
The more important issue is whether tobacco history is instructive
in addressing the problems created by unhealthy diets. A half century
of tobacco industry deception has had tragic consequences: Since
the “Frank Statement,” approximately 16 million Americans have died
from smoking, and millions more have suffered from debilitating diseases
ranging from emphysema to heart disease. Had the industry come
clean in 1954—matching deeds with promises—many of these deaths
would almost certainly have been prevented. No one knows how many.
Perhaps 3 million. Maybe 5 million. Maybe 7 million—just in the
United States. An honest approach by industry might have saved more
lives than any public health measure taken during the past fifty years.
Furthermore, if industry hadmade good faith efforts globally, rather than
exploit and addict the developing world, the benefits could have been
stunning.

Big Tobacco lit the Fairness Doctrine

No one has seen a cigarette ad on TV since New Year’s Day 1971, when a ban on such ads by Congress went into effect. Congress usually gets the credit for “defeating” the tobacco companies, yet the ban was actually sought by Big Tobacco because of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine — and the efforts of a young activist to invoke it.

Youth smoking prevention campaign

Today the American Legacy Foundation, the national non-profit organization that created the award-winning national truth® youth smoking prevention campaign and has been a leader in grant-making, research and counter-marketing efforts aimed at saving lives from tobacco, celebrates its tenth anniversary.

Public Health Groups Call for Congressional Action to Protect Kids from Tobacco

U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly, several prominent doctors from Inova Health System and public health leaders from Virginia held a press conference today to call for quick passage of federal legislation that would grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products. The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the bill earlier this month and a full House vote is expected in the coming weeks. Rep. Connolly is an original cosponsor of the legislation.

Ban on smoking in bars, casinos

Gov. Mike Rounds says the need to protect people from secondhand smoke played a role in his decision to sign a measure that bans smoking in South Dakota’s bars, video lottery casinos and Deadwood gambling halls.

FDA Adopted Hard Line on Tobacco

President Barack Obama’s picks to fill the top two positions at the Food and Drug Administration have repeatedly bucked tobacco companies and pushed for greater restrictions on cigarette marketing, second-hand smoke and sales to minors.