Now playing on a device or flat screen near you is a series of ads — 11 years in the making — alerting viewers that tobacco companies designed cigarettes to make them more addictive. In addition, that there is no such thing as a safer cigarette; that smoking kills 1,200 people a day and, among other facts, that secondhand smoke kills more than 38,000 Americans each year. The folks at major tobacco companies are bringing these messages to you. Not by choice or act of conscious, but under the orders of the federal courts.
In 1999, the Justice Department filed a racketeering lawsuit against tobacco companies seeking to force them to make up for decades of deception. In 2006, a U.S. District Judge ruled that tobacco companies named in the action would have to pay for and place ads outlining the facts of this deception.
Since that ruling, these companies have spent a small fortune engaging the best legal minds they can buy in order to avoid what one health advocate called "their day of reckoning." Well, that day has finally arrived.
Regardless of their compliance with the law, it does not mean that tobacco companies have changed their ways, says a joint statement issued by health advocacy groups including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and the American Lung Association. "Their continuing aversion to the truth is clear from how hard they fought the corrective statements, going so far as to seek removal of the phrase 'here is the truth,'" the health groups noted.
The reality check for tobacco companies goes all the way back to January 11, 1964, when then-Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry held a news conference to announce that smoking causes cancer and probably heart disease. This salvo set off a 53-year battle between regulators and the tobacco industry that continues to this day.
As the health organizations change, tobacco companies have peddled their deadly products "with zeal, with deception" with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and "...without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted." Cigarettes kill 480,000 Americans a year. At the same time, tobacco use costs $170 billion in direct medical costs and $156 billion in lost productivity.
While the number of smokers continues to dwindle, an estimated 18 percent of the population still smokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No wonder — researchers have proven that nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man.
A year after the Surgeon General called out the tobacco industry in 1964, according to an investigation published in the journal PLOS Biology, an industry group called the Sugar Research Foundation secretly funded a scientific review that generated evidence that linked sugar consumption to blood fat levels that could be harmful. This information was suppressed and the study was never published. At roughly the same time, the sugar industry launched a campaign aimed at countering "negative attitudes toward sugar." This was accomplished in part by funding sugar research that could produce favorable results while promoting fat as the dietary culprit in health concerns such as heart disease.
During the time at which these studies were taking place, many dietary recommendations were being formulated that emphasized reducing high-fat foods. A lot of the low-fat foods replacements have high-sugar content to make them taste more palatable. We now know that recommendations pushing low-fat diets may have resulted in an increase in carbohydrate consumption. Many experts believe this dietary shift embraced by the Food and Drug Administration may have made the obesity epidemic worse.
As stated by Stanton Glantz of the University of California, San Francisco, a co-author of the investigation, the ongoing controversy surrounding sugar in our diets "...may be rooted in more than 60 years of food and beverage industry manipulation of science." He goes on to point out that the industry's strategies to avoid scrutiny were both sophisticated and eerily similar to those employed by the tobacco industry.
To this day, the efforts to slow down the consensus on the health risks linked to sugar consumption continue. The current U.S. Dietary Guidelines for limiting added sugars calls for no more than 10 percent of daily calories. In a trade association publication last year, the president and CEO of the Sugar Association described this recommended limit on sugar as "scientifically out of bounds."
Meanwhile, according to a new study from Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, more than half of U.S. children are projected to have obesity as adults if current trends continue. The study found that only children currently at a healthy weight have less than a 50 percent chance of having obesity as adults.
Health and nutrition experts expressed little surprise at the findings. "Trends show obesity occurring earlier in adulthood, and [the] current level of childhood obesity suggests that the trend will continue," Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas told CBS News.
The internal sugar industry documents revealed in the investigative report in PLOS Biology were striking because they provide rare evidence that the food industry suppressed research it did not like. But it is a practice that has also been documented among tobacco companies, drug companies and others. You have to wonder, where is the oversight?
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.