Surgeon General’s Report Omits Addictive Effects of Many Foods; Litigation

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Recognition Could Strengthen Basis of Already-Successful Fat Law Suits, Says Initiator


Fat Law Suits

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The U.S. Surgeon General’s report on addiction highlights the problems with alcohol and illegal drugs, but unfortunately doesn’t focus on the now-widely acknowledged addictive nature of many foods, even though the epidemic of obesity causes far more health problems and much higher medical expenses, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

Thus it failed to note how addiction could also form the basis for law suits triggering even more political action, says the antismoking law professor who started the movement to use legal action against obesity as he helped use it so effectively and successfully against smoking.

There have now been ten successful fat law suits, and more could be on the way.

“Once the addiction evidence is recognized, fast food outlets could be held liable for failing to warn customers,” says Banzhaf, the man behind the ban on cigarette commercials and the fat-law-suit movement. Indeed, he notes, there’s strong legal precedent, and that Fortune magazine named fat as the “new tobacco” in terms of litigation potential.

Many news reports have highlighted the ever-growing evidence that some foods can cause addictive changes in the brain similar to those caused by addictive drugs like heroin and cocaine.

Moreover, notes Banzhaf, many scientists, scientific organizations, and responsible media outlets have been saying the same thing for many years.

Not surprisingly, the fast food industry – just like the tobacco industry before them – continues to argue that the evidence linking some fattening foods to addictive changes in the brain and in eating behaviors isn’t absolutely conclusive, and that some scientists aren’t yet convinced.

But Banzhaf, an expert in torts law, counters by noting that companies must provide consumers with any information a reasonably consumer might need to make an informed decision.

“Many parents who take a child to a fast food outlet several times a week might well avoid it or go less often if they knew of this evidence, even if it wasn’t absolutely conclusive.”

Similarly, a doctor who prescribes a pill and fails to tell the patient that there are a few studies showing that it can cause cancer is in very big legal trouble, even if there are a larger number of studies suggesting that it isn’t carcinogenic.

“Consumers, like patients, should be able to make up their own minds, and weigh for themselves the known or even suspected dangers of any product against its possible benefits and the pleasures derived from using it, ” Banzhaf suggests.

Banzhaf has been called “a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars,” “a Major Crusader Against Big Tobacco and Now Among Those Targeting the Food Industry,” “The Law Professor Who Masterminded Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry,” “The Man Big Tobacco and Now Fast Food Love to Hate,” “The Man Who Is Taking Fat to Court,” an “Entrepreneur of Litigation, [and] a Trial Lawyer’s Trial Lawyer,” the “Dean of Public Interest Lawyers.”

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