"Can We Sue Our Own Fat Asses Off?"

By Megan McArdle

By Salon Staff
May 31, 2002 11:30PM (UTC)
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Well, the Nanny Nation rears its busybody, interfering, know-it-all head again. It was only a matter of time when the Joy Kill Club, under the guise of saving the nation and its collective wallet, went after Demon Fast Food.

There is a puritanical strain of punitive nosey-parkerism in this country that goes back to Prohibition and every health-fad scam of the 19th century. It's surpassingly strange to me that a nation that prides itself on its sense of rugged individualism and self-reliance can't seem to stop telling everyone how to live their lives.


I've got a better idea than merely suing McDonald's, KFC, et al. Let's get down to root causes: Old age is a leading indicator of imminent death, and those selfish oldsters sure use more than their fair share of healthcare dollars. Let's have a progressive tax on aging, and maybe the coots will shoot themselves and save us some money.

Heck, why stop there? Birth is a leading cause of eventual death, and every one of you who's alive is costing us every damned day! We won't stand for it. Sue everyone, all the time!

-- Suzanne Goodman


As a graduate student studying the health effects of obesity, I would like to thank you for running Megan McArdle's recent article, "Can We Sue Our Own Fat Asses Off?" Her work draws attention to an area of obesity prevention that is too often ignored: namely, the use of tactics like public policy or litigation to prevent the spread of obesity.

Ms. McArdle argues convincingly that sweeping lawsuits against fast-food companies may ultimately do the nation's consumers more harm than good. How unfortunate, then, that she focuses her journalistic skill on an obesity-prevention strategy proposed by a law professor whose knowledge of the obesity epidemic is apparently confined to the fact that, like being a smoker, being obese carries health risks.

I am especially disappointed that Ms. McArdle did not consult any scientists or policymakers with expertise in obesity prevention and treatment. This oversight leads her to bypass or bungle realistic strategies that target the obesity epidemic. For example, she assumes that a proposed California tax on soda is meant to deter people from buying soda and writes that "when 61 percent of a nation as rich as ours is overweight, adding 2 cents to the price of a soda is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."


But what if the point of this 2 cent tax is precisely that it will not deter people from buying a soda? I don't know exactly what 2 cents times the number of cans of soda sold each year in California would total, but I'm guessing that it's a substantial sum. Such revenue could be used to fund anti-obesity, pro-health strategies that would change infrastructure, prices, laws, and ultimately the behaviors of the public. The "easy" litigation that McArdle describes (such as suing food manufacturers for false labeling) might play a role here, but approaches like lobbying state or federal governments, building new facilities, and conducting public-awareness campaigns are at least as important. Potential targets for change include

  • the amount of television "junk food" advertising aimed at children
  • the way healthy foods are advertised (when was the last time you saw an appealing prime-time TV commercial for, say, broccoli?)
  • the ubiquitous availability of "junk food" vs. the effort required to eat healthier foods
  • the low price of "junk food" vs. the higher price of healthier foods
  • the (low) priority given to physical education classes in school budgets
  • inadequate public transit, unsafe inner-city neighborhoods, the lack of bike lanes, and other barriers that keep people from incorporating physical activity into their daily routines.

Obviously some of these targets are more manageable than others. We need journalists who will consult with the experts and help the public understand the merits and pitfalls of proposed anti-obesity strategies. I hope that in the future, Salon will devote space to anti-obesity efforts that hold more promise than suing the fat asses off McDonald's, KFC, and their ilk.


-- Erin Digitale

It will be a sorry state of affairs in the drive-thru line if the "dietary morality" zealots achieve success. We are a nation of individuals and must resist their efforts to make us members of their clone eating army.

-- Lee Connelly

Ms. McArdle's piece on junk food was at best about as nutritious as a load of furry fries.


I really think it's beneath Salon to publish such blatantly tactical wingnut crap. The whole piece was a straw man for one of the wingnuts' favorite targets -- trial lawyers. Why, all the little people should just trust big-daddy corporations and the "free market" to keep our bodies clean from the swill being sold everywhere. And the labels -- we should know better even when they lie, right?

Oh, and don't sue! Lawsuits are bad! Bad for business! Yeah, right. Let's just wait for all those good honest folks running the corporations and the country to come around on their own and look to cleaning up this mess.

Just to briefly point out how shallow the whole piece was, I'll start with her conclusion: "Otherwise, someday someone's long-shot lawsuit could send us all to the poorhouse" -- implying that it will be someone's lawsuit, and not the socioeconomic costs of corporations doing business in this way, that will really hurt us.


Do you mean like all the suits that corporations are filing against governments via NAFTA to sell unsafe or banned products to the places that banned them? Or [the suits filed by] corporations patenting and thereby owning the human genome? Or [those filed to keep] lower-cost generic drugs off the market by suing competitors legally engaged in producing the generics, just so they can buy a little more high-profit time ripping us off? No, she argues, just suits filed on behalf of the "little people." Meaning the vast majority of U.S. citizens.

Oh, and let's dispense with the wacky California bullshit. Wacky us, we have set the highest standards in the world on environment, health and public safety -- and have economically waxed the asses off every other state in this union, whilst footing the bill for more than a third of the rest of this country. Yeah, let's lower our standards to the level of, say, Texas or Illinois -- yup, that's the way to go -- bass-ackwards. Oh, and BTW -- the proposed 2 cent soda tax was not to encourage folks to buy bottled water (duh?), it was to pay for health-related programs the government could use to help lower obesity. But hell, let's leave that to the "free market" too. I mean, if you can't trust a corporation CEO, who can you trust?

I'll take California's progressive government and resultant superior standard of living to any other regulation-free toilet-bowl backwater, which describes most of this country (been there, smelt that) any day.

Next time, how about a real essay and not a decoy for your wingnut friends?


Cheers! Now go finish your burger.

-- Wes Headley

As an American I don't want a bunch of sanctimonious food Puritans telling me what I can and can't shove into my mouth. Obesity isn't a disease; it's a lifestyle choice. The American proclivity to litigate, whine, and always blame the other guy is a disease.

-- Ed Cunion


Lawmakers are deluding themselves if they think that making fast food more expensive or suing fast-food companies will lower the percentage of obesity in Americans.

I believe that there are three main reasons for the rise in obesity in America:

1. The diet industry and the pressure to be thin. I think most of us realize now that diets do not work. In fact, most people end up gaining back what they lost plus a few more pounds. It's no coincidence that as the diet industry grows, the percentage of obesity grows as well. I've been dieting for 10 years. I ended up 100 pounds heavier. I can tell you the caloric content of pretty much every food product out there. I only began to lose weight when I lost the "diet diet diet skinny skinny skinny" mentality.

2. Less time. Americans (especially children) eat more and more prepared and packaged foods. These foods are very high in calories. Have you ever looked at the nutritional information on one of those prepackaged lunches marketed to children? Ridiculous.


3. Income. It is extremely expensive to eat healthy and fresh food compared to eating canned and packaged food. One iceberg lettuce goes for around a dollar. You can buy four packages of ramen noodles for a dollar.

People are not going to start losing weight unless they stop making excuses, see their doctors, and make huge lifestyle changes. Foisting the responsibility on fast-food companies is certainly not going to help.

-- Stephanie LaCabbage

As a nation, we are getting heavier, and this represents a serious public health problem that could cost us billions upon billions of dollars. There is no doubt about this.

There are more cost-effective ways to handle this than enriching lawyers and that cottage industry of expert witnesses by suing Col. Sanders and Ronald McDonald. As a society and as individuals, we should resort to preventive and proactive solutions against America's obesity problems. The following are relatively inexpensive and may be more effective. What about nutrition education in grades 2 and 8 and mandatory K-12 physical education? What about funding for research by the Centers for Disease Control or various research institutions to study various hormones that may be responsible for obesity? How about better regional planning that reduces sprawl and encourages the use of public transportation and walking? If we're driving longer distances, that's more time we are sitting in our cars. And yes, urban sprawl has been linked to obesity.

There are so many worthwhile solutions to the obesity epidemic, and it's sad that we are looking to the legal system to bail us out instead of applying thoughtful applications from the sciences and social sciences. But, unfortunately, with politicians more interested in enriching their campaign donors (i.e., trial lawyers), it's hard to envision politicians at the national and local level discussing urban sprawl. I guess we'll see Col. Sanders in court then.

-- Jason J. Orta

Since high school I've been addicted to the nutritional labels provided on most packaged foods. Not only were they a wealth of information, but like the ingredients listed they also provided lots more questions. What exactly does Red #5 consist of? And now I notice a new food color called (euphemistically, I'm sure) Lake. There's Blue Lake and Yellow Lake and Red Lake. What is Lake and how do they put it in our food ? This brings me to the Lunchables. If you take a look at the Lunchables Nutritional Label, you find that more than one variety supplies more than 50 percent of a day's sodium and in some cases up to 40 percent of a day's saturated fat. Egads! And these are marketed for children. Are a child's daily calorie requirements more or less than the average male's? Perhaps the answer lies in a Parental Advisory Warning label much like good ol' Tipper Gore brought us with the rise of rap music. Instead of the generic black-and-white stickers they could use a little fat person icon with the red "Yahoo!" exclamation point.

-- Hutch Brown

Most anyone who's been counseled for disordered eating will tell you that addictive overeating is the toughest addiction to manage, because while you can simply eliminate trigger substances like alcohol or cocaine from your life, you can't not eat.

Anyone who has been successfully counseled for disordered eating will also tell you that they began to heal around the time they realized that their problem wasn't food, but rather, impulse control and self-acceptance issues.

To recover from obesity (barring the small minority of folks who truly suffer from non-behavior-related obesity and who were not the focus of this article), one has to first accept that one is the only person with the power to take control of the situation.

Herein lies the true danger of attempting to use litigation to solve this pandemic problem.

As our society becomes ever more permissive of litigious blame shifting, we denude ourselves of our freedom of will. To cue millions of people to believe that it's actually the fault of McDonald's for serving the Big Mac, rather than their own fault for eating two of them every day while sitting in their cars, is actually to cruelly impoverish those people already saddled with a serious health risk.

The article did not really address the myriad psychological and socioeconomic factors that contribute to most people's weight problems (another reason why litigious attacks on fast food corporations will have no effect on the problem). However, maintaining a healthy (or near healthy) weight is nothing that requires a degree, knowledge of the occult, or assistance from our legal system -- it's easily done using common sense, instinct -- and while a modicum of education can't hurt, it's really less important than plain old mindfulness of what makes your body feels good and what makes it feel bad. (I personally eat doughnuts now and then, but I know that they will make me feel sick, cranky and undernourished most times so I don't do it on a daily basis.)

It can be incredibly challenging for people with serious weight problems to become attuned to those seemingly basic physical cues (ceasing to eat when you're full, noticing that you have more energy and fewer illnesses if you eat nutrient-rich food). It seems hideously unfair to further compromise that journey back to health by creating a system that places the blame on the French fry for failing to be a baked potato, rather than encouraging people to remember that they are free to choose a baked potato and that baked potatoes are cheap, tasty, filling and great for you.

Litigation against fast-food companies (much as I am personally repulsed by them) will probably not result in one single person becoming more healthy. It will merely increase our deeply unhealthy focus on avoiding personal responsibility.

-- Amy Glynn

This suing for money is getting out of hand. Here in Australia, insurance companies are on the brink of collapse because of it, and that includes the ones who insure medical specialists. We might lose vital medical services such as neurosurgeons and midwives soon because of this crisis. And now fast food?

For fast food, though, I can propose a possible solution:

Instead of forcing these companies to pay millions of dollars to specific individuals, force them to pay that money into research on alternative, lower-fat versions of their food, and publicly trial and market both kinds.

There are already examples of this in Australia. A couple of Australian pizza chains have reduced the fat in their pizza dough to nearly zero. And a small takeaway hamburger shop at Bondi Beach sold fat-free hamburgers and French fries that were 95 percent fat free. They baked the fries, and the food from there was still quite delicious. Sadly, this last shop closed down because greedy property owners demanded higher rents from local properties, which ensured only the richest food places could stay open.

But still, forcing fast-food companies to provide alternatives is far better than awarding millions of dollars to fast-food addicts who will probably end up spending a lot of their winnings on artery-clogging fast food anyway.

-- Rick Pratchett

This is a timely subject, and I'm sure, we haven't heard the last of it.

The problem is that fast-food emporiums are not the sole culprit, though they may be the easiest ones to target.

Several years ago, I started doing research about healthy eating and food additives when I discovered that I was infertile (though healthy, active and not overweight). Now for the bad news: almost everything on the grocery store shelves contains suspect chemicals, denatured ingredients, misleading nutritional information, etc. The best way to eat healthy is to cook from scratch or to use the most minimally processed foods possible.

More bad news: All those products labeled "low fat" and "healthy" are just as loaded with killer ingredients (trans-fatty acids, etc.) and the "unhealthy" stuff.

Now, when I shop, I read every label and every item in the ingredient list.

It all boils down to dollars: Wholesome foods don't have a long shelf life, and they don't market well. So companies produce and sell what does. As long as they are raking in profits, they aren't concerned about 10-year-olds with high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol.

But we, as a nation, should be.

-- Kimberly Schramm

I eagerly dived into "Can We Sue Our Own Fat Asses Off", but as soon as I ran into the first instance of California bashing, the article soured, and I grew angry.

What is it with people from the Midwest, anyway? If they're so jealous of California, perhaps they should (a) stop drinking our wine, (b) stop using our software and computers, (c) stop flying in our airplanes, (d) stop watching our movies, (e) stop eating our fruit and vegetables, (f) stop drinking our milk, and eating our cheese ... etc.

-- Chris Edmonds

Adults can choose to eat whatever they want, but if activists stick to suing companies that overtly market their unhealthy food to children I have no doubt the activists will win.

McDonald's-type Happy Meals and toy tie-ins are strong evidence of cynical and injurious capitalism at its worst. Juries will see this and punish greedy fast-food barons. (Similarly Taco Bell-type marketing to teenagers will be a smoking gun for activists who want to pursue it.)

I wish the activists well.

-- Dennis Seals

Litigation to recover the health costs of fast food may be just, but it is an amazingly inefficient way to get fast-food companies to internalize those costs. So much otherwise productive time, energy, money, and judicial and political resources will be wasted, and not much of the recovery, if any, will go to the "victims"; most will go to the enforcers (lawyers).

A broad-based ex ante scheme would be much better. A significant sales tax on fast food would decrease consumer demand and consumption while funding the government's service of the public health costs. A gross-revenues tax on the fast-food producer would have a similar effect while also requiring the producer, rather than the consumer, to internalize the health costs of the fast food (since producers will be under market pressure to keep prices low). The latter scheme might provide greater decreases in the number of fast-food firms in the market, as well, although the smaller firms, requiring higher profit margins, would probably fall first.

Another ex ante approach would be to require a greater and more prominent disclosure of the downsides of a problem. For example, it might not be enough for McDonald's to provide, in fine print, the caloric value of the Big Mac meal. They might be required, instead, to market the negative truths of the Big Mac in as prominent and flashy a manner as the positives -- the beautiful people enjoying steaming burgers would have to be accompanied in advertisements by fat, sweaty, acned customers, some exhibiting symptoms of extreme heart disease or Type II diabetes. This extreme version of truth in advertising might raise some First Amendment concerns, but it would likely have the desired effect of decreasing demand, as well. Additionally, such a regime would require fast-food producer/advertisers to internalize the information and opportunity costs currently borne by consumers, who must research, on their own if at all, the health risks and severity of those risks, of the fast foods they buy.

-- Michael Zara

Reading this article made me very, very mad.

I am continually appalled by the decreasing lack of personal responsibility among Americans. I find it extremely hard to believe that the majority of the U.S. population by now does not know that eating a diet of Big Macs and Ho-Hos without any physical activity is a recipe for disaster. We know full well what we should be doing in terms of diet and exercise, but for the most part don't want to be bothered with the discipline it takes to live a healthy lifestyle, or even just to eat the "bad stuff" in moderation. No, it's much easier to blame someone else! After all, if the blame can be placed externally, on the companies that make and market junk food, then Americans don't have to make the required lifestyle changes -- they'll just wait for the big class-action payout. It's conveniently Somebody Else's Problem, never My Problem.

Only in America. Sheesh.

-- Amy Dalal

Thank you for Megan McArdle's article. I found it very informative but I wish that she had gone a little bit deeper into one point: Why is it that in America too many people do not want to take responsibility for their own actions? I mean, if we can't control ourselves then it must be someone else's fault, right? While I dislike fast food restaurants and refuse to eat the garbage that they call food, I find that the thought of suing them for our own poor choices appalling. The litigious nature of American society disgusts me. While I believe that there are times and places to sue corporations (such as providing false information or flouting environmental regulations), issues like this not only waste resources that could be better spent better (like enforcing environmental regulations), but they also make Americans look like a bunch of whiny crybabies!

We're the ones who eat their food, so we're the ones to blame for our fat asses. I'm 5'7" and have a big frame. When I graduated from high school I was a good 160 pounds. By the time I was married eight years later, I was 185. After four months of marriage, I ballooned up to 210. This was my own fault. Too much eating out, too many desserts, and very little exercise led to my expanded waistline. After much hard work, I am down to 185 again and am still on my way down. I eat healthier, moderate my intake of sweets, practice yoga every day, and jog 3 to 5 miles a week. Not only am I now able to find clothes that fit better, I feel better both physical and mentally.

People let themselves go to waste, causing them to feel terrible, and rather than take responsibility for the poor choices they make, they want to find someone else to blame. Instead of suing our fat asses, we need to get up off our fat asses. We're told that this is the information age, so what we need is an information solution. I like Dr. Diana Berger's idea to force the companies to list the nutritional information on the wrapper of a Big Mac (or box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts) and let the buyer beware. Those that care about their own well-being may start to change their habits. Those that don't will have to live (or die) with the consequences.

-- Erick Cloward

Please note that the tobacco companies settled the lawsuit because they got something big out of it: for agreeing to tax (mostly) blue-collar smokers more per pack and pass on the annual revenue to the states for the resultant aggrandizement of the legal/political class (mostly white-collar) the tobacco companies were granted a de facto license to become a cartel. This means that any new tobacco company must pay a huge entry fee to join the cartel, effectively eliminating any new competition. This now makes the political/legal class the partners (and also just as bad?) of the tobacco companies, eagerly awaiting the annual paycheck as people smoke and stay addicted.

Also note that very few states receiving this money are now using it as originally promised -- to mitigate tobacco-related healthcare costs and to educate the children ("It's all about the children," remember?) about the evils of tobacco. So now that the dust and smoke have settled, we see the real winners of this scheme -- white collars beat blue collars again. The so-called aggrieved class (smokers and children) are paying more and not getting education and promised healthcare. Tobacco company execs and shareholders see stock prices go up. Lawyers make zillions and politicians have a springboard to bigger office with the money support of the legal class that just got rich.

As I.F. Stone said, "Follow the money." Honest people will see this as an unconstitutional form of national taxation without congressional input. Why would anybody think that a tobacco-related "victory" of this magnitude and cleverness would not engender more shakedowns? Of course the fast-food and alcohol businesses are nervous.

-- Ted DiSante

Litigation will have almost no impact on obesity, not because it won't affect American diets, but because it misses the target. At the root of our obesity problem is America's repulsive sedentariness, abetted by a culture and infrastructure devoted to physical convenience. I don't dispute the awfulness of our diets, but consider that Europeans (who are less obese than Americans, on average) drink wine with breakfast and put mayonnaise on their French fries. They also own fewer cars and their television programming is dreadful.

Some statistics indicate that as many as 40 percent of American adults get no exercise at all. That number doesn't mean that 60 percent of American adults go to the gym twice a week; it means that 60 percent of American adults walk a few minutes every day. Our national obsession with television, desk work, and automotive transport has removed nearly every inch of mobility from our daily lives. We constructed our cities around the conceits that we can drive from front door to front door, and that the only acceptable social activity is watching television. If we want to address the "obesity epidemic," we need to ask a deeper, more disturbing question: Why don't Americans do anything anymore? How is this McDonald's fault?

-- Paul Souders

Litigation may be the only answer. The abuses in food preparation and processing run so deep that for consumers to rebel they'd have to stop eating practically everything. It probably wouldn't be too difficult to find slightly obese juries just waiting to pin the blame on some company with oodles of money.

OK. So, making food healthier may raise its cost, but then won't salaries nationwide have to increase too? Hmm ...

-- Steven Kapsinow

The risk that such lawsuits will bring our thriving economy to its knees (which is already being done by other governmental decisions and actions) is insignificant compared to the real underlying concept here.

Freedom can be defined as having authority over yourself. Our penchant for idiot litigation (tripping over your own kid at a department store and suing the department store, buying coffee from McDonald's and then suing McDonald's when you're not bright enough to put it somewhere where it can't spill on your crotch) means that we are giving up our freedom. When you hand over the responsibility for your actions to someone else, that person (or entity) will take steps to ensure that your actions look like what they would like regardless of what you would like. You'd like a really hot cup of good coffee? Can't get it because some fool successfully sued McDonald's. That is a small but very clear loss of choice and freedom to the individual.

Worse, saying that the government has to do something about American "obesity" means that we are merely creatures of the government as opposed to the government being the creature of the people. What right does the government have to say that I can't be fat if I wish to? (Of course, you can substitute a lot of things for "can't be fat if I wish to.")

Whenever you make someone or thing else responsible for individual behavior, you are relinquishing your authority to whoever has the responsibility and you're losing your freedom.

-- Jeffrey P. Harrison

Although I would have to agree with the author's conclusion that successful lawsuits against fast-food companies present serious legal and economic consequences, it is naive to imagine that our eating behavior is entirely individual and that we are therefore personally responsible for everything we eat.

Considerable psychological research suggests that eating disorders like overeating, bulimia and anorexia are social, as much as individual, disorders. For example, a 1989 study by Crandall at Princeton University found that healthy people living in communities where binge eating is the norm tend to themselves develop binge-eating disorders as they spend more time in the community.

On a societal level, it is highly likely that the advertising of fast-food companies creates the image of eating enormous amounts of unhealthy food as normative and therefore desirable. In light of the extent to which social factors affect individual eating behavior, any effective intervention against obesity clearly needs to occur on at least a community and, hopefully, national level.

As the national battle against tobacco use has taught us, tax hikes and other individually oriented interventions are ineffective because they ignore the social meaning of the unhealthy behavior. In order to fight obesity, national and state governments need to work together to create legislation that limits the ability of the fast-food companies to create the image of overeating as normative, entertaining, comforting and even healthy.

Although the author cautions against the legal and economic consequences of suing the fast-food companies, she neglects to consider that lawsuits have thus far proved to be the only effective means to bring the U.S. government to act against companies that endanger the health of Americans for profit. The real question to pose is, why doesn't our government act to protect us?

-- Jenny Mutterperl

In our finger-pointing, personal-responsibility-abdicating society, of course people are bound to jump on the bandwagon of blame. Product liability labeling is so ludicrously out of hand because of the propensity of the average blameless American to blame the product for its own misuse and their stupidity and lack of self-control. If Joe Twelve-Pack can sit on his fat ass, blame Mickey D's for his blubber and collect a fat class-action paycheck, who could blame him? Which inspires the question: Are the liquor and beer companies next, alcoholism clearly being their fault? I'm interested to know, however, how recent findings of more biological causes of obesity are going to affect this litigious quest.

-- Rosalie Key

In regards to the article "Can We Sue Our Fat Asses Off?" the author suggests at one point that a difference could be made in American health if restaurants simply changed the way they prepared their food. If the author had done any kind of research, she would have found that fast-food companies have been trying this for many years. All of the big chains have entertained the possibility that there is a large percentage of the population that they could earn as customers if they served healthy food.

Time and time again fast food chains have tried this, and time and time again, those products have failed. Why? Simple. Americans like their fatty food. Virtually every fast-food chain still has a relatively healthy line of products, but a quick look at their financial statements or some case studies will tell you that the demand is simply not there.

Legislation has no business influencing the eating habits of Americans. It doesn't work, it's expensive, and it's a infringement on the rights of those people who simply don't mind being fat and unhealthy. Whether it's a good idea or not is irrelevant.

-- Frank Papa

Megan McArdle, it seems to me, has an ax to grind. A right-wing ax, I think.

In her piece, she throws herself into hysterics about the tidal wave of litigation that will -- just any day now! -- come washing over us as suit-happy lawyers start hauling Burger King and Jack in the Box into court because burgers and fries are fatty.

Say ... does she get her story ideas from Salon's editors, or the Republican Party? I mean, after all, it's the GOP and various right-wing "think tanks" that have been for years beating this drum about litigation run amok, screaming "crisis" over and over again.

Really, McArdle's bias is pretty blatant. Consider this lovely little example:

Companies manage risk by weighing the probability of a given event ... against the money to be gained or lost. Such calculations tend to break down, however, when a single event is both unpredictable and catastrophic; that's why frightened insurance companies stopped offering terrorism coverage in the wake of 9/11. That's also why tobacco companies seem to have decided to settle. With lawsuits piling up and no end in sight, they had to face the risk that, even though the law was on their side, a jury might return a verdict that would bankrupt them.

Spoken like a true corporate shill on loan from the Heritage Foundation. (I especially like that neat little juxtapositioning of the legal attacks on Big Tobacco with the terrorist attacks of 9/11. One can already hear the new slogan: "Lawyers ... America's Homegrown Terrorists!").

Say, Megan, did it ever occur to you that the tobacco industry began settling lawsuits because (a) they were starting to lose them, (b) the law was not on their side, and (c) the law was really not on their side once discovery motions had finally kicked out truckloads of incriminating documents that proved how tobacco executives had lied and lied and lied and lied for decades?

Another thing you've got to love about McArdle's piece is her ever so clever use of weasel words and phrases. She says the tobacco industry "seems" to have decided to settle because things were getting unpredictable. "Seems"? Either you know or you don't know, Megan. If you do know, please let us know how you know. Prove it.

And while you're at it, please prove how the law was on Big Tobacco's side. But good luck. Sure, there are some legal scholars who say that. But it "seems" to me I could find a few scholars and lawyers and judges -- oh, enough, say, to fill either a small city or a large football stadium -- who'd cheerfully dispute your claim.

Personally, I strongly doubt that any litigation crisis is about to befall the fast-food industry. There may be a few areas of "legal exposure," but I doubt they are very big.

But what I don't doubt is that this is just another example of corporate propaganda trying to pawn itself off as news.

-- Roger Keelinga

Interesting piece. My suggestion for dealing with obesity epidemic (aside from suing, which I'd support if it worked, but which, for reasons the author correctly points out, almost certainly won't):

A "Crap Tax" (name borrowed from a friend at the gym): Cigs, booze, junk food, would all be taxed at the register to offset costs to public health of addiction, obesity, etc.

Those who want to drink, smoke, or otherwise consume unwholesome Crap can do so, but they will have to pick up the tab for the costs to society of Crap consumption.

Is this a regressive tax, since poor people, largely those of color statistically, consume the most Crap?

No -- for you would tax the advertising for Crap as well, making it more difficult for Crapmongers to reach their audience.

An idea whose time has come!

The Crap Tax.

-- Martin Garrison

Salon Staff

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