tocacco plant Native American Tobaccoo flower, leaves, and buds

tocacco Tobacco is an annual or bi-annual growing 1-3 meters tall with large sticky leaves that contain nicotine. Native to the Americas, tobacco has a long history of use as a shamanic inebriant and stimulant. It is extremely popular and well-known for its addictive potential.

tocacco nicotina Nicotiana tabacum

tocacco Nicotiana rustica leaves. Nicotiana rustica leaves have a nicotine content as high as 9%, whereas Nicotiana tabacum (common tobacco) leaves contain about 1 to 3%

tocacco cigar A cigar is a tightly rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco which is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the mouth. Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Sumatra, Philippines, and the Eastern United States.

tocacco Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the fresh leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as an organic pesticide, and in the form of nicotine tartrate it is used in some medicines. In consumption it may be in the form of cigarettes smoking, snuffing, chewing, dipping tobacco, or snus.

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Is Food The Next Tobacco?

The multigenerational process to reduce U.S. and global cigarette consumption is being replayed in the food world.

The ongoing discussion about the woes of sugared beverages may or may not result in a “sin” tax as a means to pay for the costs of health care reform and simultaneously attempt to promote health. But one way or another, the multi-generational process to reduce U.S. and global cigarette consumption is now being replayed in the world of food. Unhealthy food is the “new tobacco” and will rapidly be equally stigmatized, discredited, publicly identified as an addictive problem and perhaps even some day, deemed a drug.

Clinical data increasingly demonstrate the adverse effects of excessive consumption of certain types of foods, including high-calorie beverages and other “treats” for children, and high fat and cholesterol foods. While I believe many of these studies are incomplete, there is little doubt that childhood and adult obesity is being exacerbated by high-calorie beverages and snacks and that heart disease risk is heightened in certain people by ingesting high saturated fat and cholesterol diets.

The plaintiff’s attorneys and regulators have had a more difficult time demonstrating either liability on the parts of food manufacturers or marketers (e.g., failed lawsuits against McDonald’s ( MCD - news - people ) and other fast-food chains for high fat-content foods “injuring” patrons) or justification for “sin taxes” as in the case of tobacco, but this is now changing. Fueled by a weak economy, an insufficient tax base and rising health care costs, which are perceived as the result of preventable illnesses exacerbated by unhealthy diets, the tide is turning. In addition, the increasingly popular “green,” and “organic” movements favor the notion of less processed foods and would tend to encourage less sugar, salt and fat additives.

A variety of public officials have recently promoted sugared beverage taxes. Many pediatricians probably support that notion. The scientific data demonstrating the health hazards of excessive sugared beverages in children are compelling. This consumption can lead to increased risks of childhood obesity, which can lead to a variety of other illnesses, most notably Type II diabetes. The clinical research demonstrating the health hazards of high-fat, high-cholesterol foods or high-salt foods in children and adults are less conclusive but are intuitive for physicians and health policy experts and therefore are relevant to the potential success of tobacco-styled litigation and for legislation against the “junk food” or “fast food” manufacturers and restaurants as well as relevant to growing sentiment in clinical and political circles to encourage reduction of consumption of these foods in all Americans.

Increased disclosure of nutritional contents of foods is also likely to lead to decreased consumption. Possible “sin taxes” will certainly lead to decreased consumption. Unlike cigarettes, however, the addiction to sweet, salty or fatty foods is nearly universal in American society and will be much more difficult to modify.

The old Lay’s potato chip advertisement campaign of “Bet you can’t eat just one” is indicative of our biological challenges here. Nevertheless, look for food to be the next “tobacco” with government and society putting us all under increasing pressure to reduce these foods in our diets.

Medical interventions that assist with this challenge such as diet drugs, food substitute products and alternative food restaurants may thrive. Products and services that better inform the public of nutritional characteristics of food and assure purity and safety of food will be increasingly in demand. Snack food and fast food consumption may decline. But don’t look for any of these trends to rapidly reduce the incidence of diabetes, heart disease and other influenced illnesses. That’s generations off.

Mitchell Blutt, 10.06.09 Forbes

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