In Seattle, there is a popular restaurant called the 5 Spot. Its signature dish is a huge, calorie-laden dessert called The Bulge. Access to it, however, is restricted to those patrons willing to sign a waiver agreeing not to sue the restaurant for making them fat.
Although obviously a marketing gimmick, the underlying issue is no joke. Greedy lawyers (pardon the redundancy) have been working steadily on a campaign to make restaurants and food manufacturers legally liable for the spread of obesity. Sadly, they are making progress.
In June, the Public Health Advocacy Institute in Boston held a conference on legal approaches to the obesity epidemic. More than 100 lawyers and "consumer advocates" (i.e., left-wing busybodies) heard from prominent veterans of tobacco lawsuits on how to duplicate their success. The goal of the attendees is to make themselves multimillionaires while pretending that their motive is a high-minded concern for public health. It would be laughable if it hadn't already worked so well with the tobacco companies, which not coincidentally, also own many food operations.
Unfortunately, the tobacco companies seem to have learned nothing from their experience with anti-smoking zealots and are actually opening the door to lawsuits against their food divisions. They don't seem to understand that their enemies are not driven by genuine concerns about health or even by greed, but by ideology. They bring a religious fervor to their efforts that combine a Marxist hatred of capitalism with extraordinary naivete about human nature, mixed together with a tort liability system that is eager to award large damages based on the flimsiest of evidence.
Nevertheless, Kraft Foods, a division of Altria Group (formerly known as tobacco giant Philip Morris), thinks it can buy off its prosecutors by cutting portion sizes, reducing fat and sugar in its products, and scaling back marketing to children. These may all be worthwhile things to do, but to its enemies it is virtually an admission of guilt. Just as warning labels on cigarettes proved to be no defense against tobacco lawsuits, neither will Kraft's pre-emptive capitulation. It will only embolden its enemies and provide new lines of legal attack.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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