Remember the much-ballyhooed tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s, the ones that were supposed to cripple Big Tobacco and then slowly starve it of new smokers?
1. Since the end of the publicity blitz surrounding the lawsuits, the U.S. teen smoking rate, the key to the industry’s future domestic profits, has stopped falling, and stayed steady at a substantially high level.
This is what happens when “consumer” activists do what they normally do, which is struggle mightily to summon the courage to offer their opponents what Neville Chamberlain offered Hitler. Afraid of connecting the dots between the three c-words — class, capitalism, and “consumers” — the aspiring anti-powers-that-be invariably fail to acknowledge that the weeds they are trying to pluck have roots. As a result, they invariably yield mere appeasements, rather than adequate, lasting changes.
Consider the similar case of “consumer” activists’ efforts to draw corporate food marketers to meet them in Munich about eroding childhood nutrition. A couple years back, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood threatened to sue the Kellogg Company over its unyielding peddling of a wide variety of marketing-friendly (high flavor, low nutrition) foods to the increasingly obese U.S. population of children.
Q: How much better has this settlement proven to be than Chamberlain’s famous piece of paper?
The document itself begins by permitting Kellogg to promulgate extreme falsehoods about itself:
“We remain first and foremost committed,” its opening paragraph reads, “to meeting our consumers’ changing needs.”
This massive lie begs two questions:
1. If “consumer” needs are king, why is it necessary for “watchdogs” to police Kellogg’s behavior?
2. If putting “our consumers'” (note the possessive formulation) needs ahead of Kellogg investors’ interests were ever actually adopted as actual company policy, how many minutes it would take Kellogg shareholders to eject their derelict board of directors?
In reality, as any glance at kids’ TV will confirm, all the settlement did was tweak Kellogg’s advertising strategies slightly. Most often, they simply tack on some unrealistic pep-talk about “getting outside” for 15 minutes, as if that will either work or compensate for their shameful promotion of junk foods.
One other effect of the Kellogg/CSPI/CCFC settlement has been voluntary adoption of similar marketing “guidelines” by other corporations.
The meaningfulness of such progress can be gleaned from one of the products that Kraft Foods’ Post Cereal division now sells as part of its “Sensible Solutions” program. Here you go, health food enthusiasts: