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Sugar and Cigarettes, Shockingly Similar

In 1998 Coca-Cola offered schools $10,000 to advertise Coke discount cards to their students. Deeply in need of the funds, Greenbrier High School in Augusta, Georgia, invited Coke employees to lecture in classes and added the analysis of Coca-Cola to its chemistry curriculum. The school went on to make all 1,230 students dress in red or white shirts and to spell-out “Coke” while they snapped photos to send to Coke execs.

Considering how harmful and addictive sweeteners are, why was the Coke stunt considered harmless fun while it would be illegal to do the same thing with other harmful and addictive substances?

Sweeteners and tobacco are both harmful and addictive. Yet the promotion of the former is encouraged while the promotion of the latter is highly regulated. The rationale cannot be that tobacco is so much more harmful. Tobacco only kills 8 percent more people. Both industries are even run by the same companies.

Annual Deaths Caused By…


Big Tobacco Taking Over the “Food” Industry

  • 1970 – Philip Morris buys Miller Brewing
  • 1978 – Philip Morris buys 97% of Seven-Up
  • 1985 – R.J. Reynolds buys Nabisco Foods
  • 1985 – Philip Morris buys General Foods
  • 1988 – Philip Morris buys Kraft, Inc.
  • 1990 – Philip Morris acquires Jacobs Suchard
  • 1993 – Philip Morris buys Nabisco cereals
  • 2000 – Philip Morris buys Nabisco Holdings


Sweeteners and tobacco are even rationalized the same way by industry insiders. Here is how both describe the safety of their products:

They share the same marketing tactics:

And finally, on health:

With so much in common, it seems odd that one of these is treated like the plague while it is fine for the food industry to spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year advertising sweets to children. Particularly when psychologists have shown that before the age of eight, children do not see commercials as marketing, they see them as fact.

Consider the study from the Journal of Marketing thatshowed 70% of six-through-eight-year olds believe fast foods are healthier than food prepared at home. Researcher Kelly Brownell at Yale reports: “A study of Australian children ages nine to ten indicated that more than half believe that Ronald McDonald knows best what children should eat.” He went on to report: “The average American child sees 10,000 food advertisements each year, just on television. Children watching Saturday morning cartoons see a food commercial every five minutes. The vast majority are for sugared cereals, fast foods, soft drinks, sugary and salty snacks, and candy…Between 1976 and 1987, the ratio of high- to low-sugar ads increased from 5:1 to 12.5:1.”

What’s the moral of the story? Food companies are not going to stop with sweeteners. Nor can we rely on our government for help. They are the very source of the guidelines that leave us no practical choice other than to be slathered with sweeteners. It is up to us to end this inSANEity. Let’s  get started in the next post.

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  6. Brownell, Kelly, and Katherine Battle Horgen. Food Fight. 1 ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004. Print.
  7. Donohue, T, Meyer T, Henke L. Black and White Children: Perceptions of TV Commercials. The Journal of Marketing, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Oct., 1978), pp. 34-40.
  8. Hays CL, McNeil Jr. DG. Putting Africa on Coke’s map. New York Times. May 26, 1998.P. D1.
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  10. National Soft Drink Association web site. Available at http://www.nsda.org/softdrinks/CSDHealth/Index.html.
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