Filed Under: Food Police

CSPI: Food Equals Tobacco

“Health advocates are looking at tobacco as a model.” That was Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) speaking on CNN yesterday, summarizing the strategy of the war on consumer freedom. [For much more on CSPI, visit]

With obesity as the latest excuse for regulating personal choices, Wootan echoes Kelly Brownell, inventor of the “Twinkie tax” and longtime member of CSPI’s Scientific Advisory Board, who said in a CSPI publication as far back as 1998 that “I recommend we develop a militant attitude about the toxic food environment, like we have about tobacco.” Brownell has also said “there is no difference between Ronald McDonald and Joe Camel… we have to start thinking about this in a more militant way.”

That militant way is the government way. Most liberty-loving Americans know that “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you” is one of the scariest phrases ever uttered, but the blunt Wootan, never one to mince words, has no problem inviting regulators into your kitchen. Smug “Mommy Margo” condescendingly declares: “We’re trying to help people do what they already want to do.”

That means taxes designed to push certain foods out of the reach of consumers. Brownell and CSPI’s Michael Jacobson wrote in The American Journal of Public Health that “a steep tax would probably reduce the consumption of the taxed foods,” but “a small tax may be more politically feasible and would mostly go unnoticed by the public.” The plan mirrors the early strategy of the tobacco wars: Start with small taxes and then keep raising them to price the product out of reach.

So while Brownell, Jacobson, and CSPI say they only want to “charge a penny or two tax on soft drinks or other junk foods” to start, that’s just the beginning. The RAND Corporation’s Deborah Cohen and Tulane University’s Tom Farley wrote “Fixing a Fat Nation” — a blueprint for the War on Fat — in December 2001. The goals:

Marketing restrictions: “We can limit the places in which it is available.”

Regulations: “We can’t ban junk food, but we can regulate it.”

Taxes: “A tax on soft drinks and junk food.”

Advertising restrictions: “We should ban advertising of junk foods to kids” and use food-tax revenues to “advertise healthy food or for counter-advertising junk food.”

Zoning restrictions: “There is no reason we can’t, through zoning and planning, regulate the location, density, or hours of junk-food outlets, especially around schools.”

Their conclusion: “We need a way to make healthy eating unavoidable.”

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