Recently the WSJ reported that, “General Tobacco, a maker of low-priced cigarettes that became the sixth largest American tobacco company during the last decade plans to “shut down after failing to make payments it owes to states under a massive industry settlement.”
Although General Tobacco’s apparent demise isn’t an industry wide phenomenon it does provide a reminder of how effective the anti-smoking campaign has been in limiting demand and changing attitudes about the smoking habit.
With politicians still focusing on healthcare rather than health, it is a useful reminder that arguably the worst health habit ever was severely reduced not by a medical effort but by a political, economic and legal one. Education didn’t change smoking habits. Medicine didn’t change smoking habits. Access to healthcare didn’t change smoking habits. Effective policy that reduced the ease of smoking, legal initiatives that imposed massive fines for effectively creating unhealthy people that the states then had to treat, and cost increases that made smoking considerably more expensive is what mostly reduced smoking.
We live in a fat culture. Obesity related conditions account for an enormous amount of the staggering healthcare spending. Compared to the very discrete and easily defined smoking habit, the obesity epidemic has multiple causes but many of them have to do with the food industry: from agricultural practices, to the provision of cheaper, junk food.
Without a similar political, legal and cultural push against the fat culture it’s unlikely that the obesity epidemic can be meaningfully stemmed. And you have to ask whether the government, collectively and individually, have the necessary commitment, courage or clout to ever impact obesity the way it impacted smoking. It will take the commitment to attack the obesity disease with things like The Science of You.