The New Tobacco

July 2, 2002

By Peyton Knight

You’re fat. Oh, come on, you know it. You are one big lard-o along the lines of Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe. Well, maybe you’re not that “obese,” but you’re certainly creeping into the “overweight” range of Cal Ripken Jr. and Michael Jordan.

All of this according to the federal government’s Body Mass Index (BMI) scale, which has characterized the physiques of the aforementioned celebrities in terms usually reserved for the Rosie O’Donnells of the world. On the bright side, you’ll be happy to know that your ever-expanding waistline is not your fault. You are merely a victim of the savvy marketing of a sadistic food and beverage industry. One that preys on your weaknesses, and most unconscionably, your children’s weaknesses, to the degree that it’s all you can do to resist cramming one more Big Mac in your fat face. This obesity diagnosis has been provided free of charge—your tax dollars at work. However, if the trial lawyers and “fat police” have their way, this seemingly benign absurdity could end up eating away at the liberty of anyone with taste buds and a stomach.

If you’re a smoker, you are probably saying: “I told you so.” That’s because the same movement that raped and pillaged “Big Tobacco” is now gearing up to take on Big Food, Big Restaurant and Big Beverage. Indeed, the blueprints for attack are identical.

First, trial lawyers and their comrades in government work to create a class of victims. In this case, it’s any self-loathing porker who unwittingly orders an extra-generous portion at a restaurant, only to find himself incapable of putting down the fork when the first cheese fry is rejected by his brimming esophagus. Yet in this instance, “victims” were lacking, so in 1998 the U.S. government modified the BMI scale to automatically send an additional 30 million Americans into the overweight and obese categories overnight. Now, we have an “epidemic.”

The epidemic needs to be sold to its “victims.” For this task, tofu junkies, animal rights organizations, anti-corporate groups, haters of capitalism and the reliably hysterical media are employed. “There is no difference between Ronald McDonald and Joe Camel,” says Dr. Kelly Brownell. “Children are to the obesity field what second-hand smoke was to tobacco,” he wails. Brownell works closely with the radical anti-consumer group “Center for Science in the Public Interest” (CSPI). CSPI is the leader of the “twinkie tax” brigade. Says their founder, Michael Jacobson, “We could envision taxes on butter, potato chips, whole milk, cheeses and meat.” People like Brownell and Jacobson think Americans are not capable of making their own dietary decisions.

Once the political atmosphere is tolerable, legislation is proposed to cure the ill—usually in the form of taxes. For instance, Deborah Ortiz, a State Senator from California (where else?), proposed a special tax on soft drinks to “diminish the human and economic costs of obesity in this state.” (Sound familiar, Joe Camel?) Luckily for soda drinkers in California, her proposal recently failed. But kooks like Ms. Ortiz have their cheerleaders in the media to back them up—and the next time, Coke drinkers might not be so lucky. “The Obesity Epidemic in America is getting worse; Americans continue to get fatter,” cries the Harris Poll. “Americans are living large and eating larger,” Michael Booth of The Denver Post reports, “Burger joints, convenience stores and even highbrow bistros are now offering portions up to seven times as big as government serving suggestions for a healthy diet.” Oh, the horror.

Soon, frustrated fatties, fed-up with their diets, will seek legal counsel against Ronald McDonald and his greedy cohorts. The restaurant and beverage industries will be forced into paying massive settlements, to balance the scales of justice, of course. The price of a delicious Big Mac will skyrocket due to fat taxes and offsetting legal costs. Meanwhile, (and this is the sick irony of it all), the only people able to afford Big Macs will be the newly rich, portly plaintiffs who started the whole mess.

Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) was one of the few on Capitol Hill to foresee this debacle. During the tobacco trials, he asked, “Where does this end? If we don’t hold people accountable for decisions they make, does it end with tobacco? Does it end with alcohol? Does it end with fattening foods?”

There is no obesity epidemic in America. Only fat bureaucrats and tubby lawyers feasting on a growing number of people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions.

Tom DeWeese
[email protected]

Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center and National Grassroots Coordinator for CFACT (Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow) working to help local activists organize into Freedom Pods ( He is also the author of three books, including Now Tell Me I Was Wrong, ERASE, and Sustainable: the WAR on Free Enterprise, Private Property, and Individuals.