Letters to the Editor

Obesity laws more than serious

Yes, many are skeptical about lawsuits aimed at the public health problem of obesity, just as they were about the lawsuits aimed at smoking which have now been hugely successful and have won plaintiffs more than $250 billion. They were also initially skeptical about my legal actions to get women into The Cosmos Club, the Metropolitan Club and The Citadel, to force dry cleaners to charge women no more than men to launder shirts, to require former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew to repay the money he took in bribes, to get smoking restricted and then banned on airplanes and other public places, to get children taken away from parents who subject them to tobacco smoke and many others – all of which were successful.

Actually, four of the fat lawsuits have also already been successful. As a result, sugary soft drinks are now banned in New York City schools, trans-fat will be removed from Oreo cookies and a major diet food will be re-labeled. In Seattle, even the threat of a lawsuit was sufficient to limit the sale of sugary soft drinks in schools. The suit I had the most to do with forced McDonald’s to begin disclosing the fat content of its French fries and to pay $10 million to charity. Although a second suit – which I had virtually nothing to do with – has now been dismissed, several of our opponents are now complaining that it provides a virtual “road map” for future successful obesity lawsuits.

Many others are also taking these suits very seriously. The National

Restaurant Association is begging Congress for protection, the insurance industry is reexamining the rates for restaurant liability policies, virtually all large food companies have made changes to limit their liability by providing healthier food and more disclosure (e.g. McDonald’s is warning its French customers not to eat at “McDo’s” more than once a week), and even our enemies are now conceding in the media that we probably will continue to be successful. See, e.g., http://banzhaf.net/obesitylinks.

Individual restaurants aren’t likely to be sued, but fast food chains, which are estimated to have caused over 60 percent of the current obesity epidemic, are likely to be forced to begin paying their fair share of the $117 billion-a-year cost of obesity (which now falls largely on the non-obese), just as the tobacco industry is being forced to pay for the huge costs of smoking. Bars and restaurants are increasingly being held liable for drunk driving accidents, and manufactures of many other products of which the dangers are at least as clear and well known (e.g., stepladders, hair dryers, etc.) are also being held legally liable.

-John F. Banzhaf III, GW Professor of Public Interest Law

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