It’s not 1984, but ‘fat-food’ advertising faces taxing dilemma, threat of vanishing altogether – NRN Editorial

It’s not 1984, but ‘fat-food’ advertising faces taxing dilemma, threat of vanishing altogether – NRN Editorial – Editorial

Elissa Elan

With apologies to John Lennon, imagine no more food ads. It’s easy if you try. No Chick-fil-A billboards around us. Above us, only sky.

You’re thinking, “fat chance,” right? Well, that basically is what some “health experts” are starting to talk about: a possible restriction on food advertising in the United States.

The idea–to make fat-laden foods essentially disappear from the public’s view is not unlike the move during the early 1970s that forced tobacco companies to ban cigarette ads.

The fact is those so-called health advocates erroneously are blaming the foodservice industry for America’s obesity epidemic. They believe that ridding the airwaves of food commercials ultimately would help consumers make better, more healthful food choices that are lower in fat and calories. To their way of thinking, we’ll all be “eatin’ good in the neighborhood,” but not necessarily at Applebee’s.

It’s no secret that the particular advocates in question would like food ads to fade from television screens faster than you can say, “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese….” But the real skinny is that the loss of revenue from such ads would have a huge negative impact on a country already hurt by a tough economy.

Think about it. If the government ended up banning or regulating the kinds of food ads shown to the public, the fallout would be serious on a number of levels. First, Big Brother lawmakers would have to determine what foods are “good” and what foods are “bad” and deserving of excommunication.

Next, of course, the repercussions for the food industry could be enormous. It’s been estimated that the foodservice industry spends upward of $25 billion on marketing and advertising annually.

That economic implication in and of itself should be enough to make one stand up and take notice of the proposed food ad prohibition. In addition to sweeping job cuts in the advertising industry, food companies would not reach as many consumers as they currently do, thus endangering the positions of their employees. Then there are the media–print and electronic. They’d lose, too, as consumer publications and broadcasters would sell less ad space and time to fewer manufacturers. Consider the possibility of dead air time on radio and television because of a lack of ads. Would we have to say goodbye to popular shows like “ER” and “Friends” because the networks wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of producing and airing them?

Maybe that is what the advocates really want–kids spending less time in front of the television and more time exercising. While that might be their expectation, it shouldn’t have to come at such a high price.

Recently, a New York politician, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz from Brooklyn, said he believed he had the answer to the obesity problem. He proposed legislation that would permit the government to tax fast food, video games and television commercials at a 1-percent rate in order to pay for an obesity prevention program.

Ortiz’s constituents, however, were not entirely happy with the idea of having to pay yet another tax. In a state already saddled with hefty taxes, many citizens believe the idea is a bit fat-headed. Business groups pointed out that New Yorkers already face high sales, income and property taxes. In addition, the state sales tax was increased recently by a quarter of a percentage point, and income tax was raised to help restore spending on health care and education, both of which suffered from state budget cuts.

Though there is no question that more attention must be paid to what our children eat, it is not the job of the restaurateur, the video game manufacturer or television networks to police obesity. That is a job for parents to handle.

To be sure, no responsible businessman wants our kids to be fat and possibly face future health issues. But corporations and entrepreneurs shouldn’t be blamed for the problem, lose business or be charged a tax as a consequence. Rather, if politicians are concerned about nutrition and the health of their future constituents, they should mandate changes in school curricula so that nutrition and healthful eating receive more emphasis in the classroom.

Researchers have found that the majority of consumers think the restaurant industry is being blamed unfairly for the obesity problem in this country. It’s time for the politicians and advocates also to give them a break today. Lawmakers and litigious crusaders need to understand what most people already know–that you can eat healthfully in general and indulge once in a while. Then everyone ends up having it his or her way.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group