Health Council Contrasts Cigarette and Obesity Litigation

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New York, NY -- July 2006. Foods are not cigarettes and should not be treated like them in the courts, according to a new publication by the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).

In the wake of litigation against cigarette companies, some trial attorneys have tried to make the case that foods, especially those offered by fast food restaurants, are uniquely responsible for the decades-long increase in obesity in the United States. But in a new publication, Foods Are Not Cigarettes: Why Tobacco Lawsuits Are Not a Model for Obesity Lawsuits, physicians and scientists associated with ACSH point out the many ways in which foods and cigarettes differ in their health effects. For example:

  • The nicotine in cigarettes is addictive and smokers have great difficulty overcoming this addiction. Although many call various foods and/or ingredients addictive, they do not meet the medical criteria for addiction, as cigarettes and nicotine do.
  • Cigarettes, when used as intended, are deadly, but food is necessary for life.
  • Smokers are typically loyal to one brand. However, people consume a wide variety of foods that are produced and prepared by many different companies.
  • Cigarette smoking is the predominant risk factor for lung cancer and other lung diseases. In contrast, obesity results from a complex interplay of factors such as overconsumption of calories, genetics, inactivity, metabolism, hormones, and social factors.

"Obesity-related litigation against food producers or companies is not based on sound, scientifically determined health effects," stated ACSH president Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.

Dr. Gilbert L. Ross, ACSH medical director added, "I am concerned that obesity litigation supports the idea that people are simply victims of food producers and purveyors -- and that they can't control their risk of obesity themselves. The data do not support this conclusion."