June 26, 2018

Unhealthy Advertising

Pizza Hut Hot Sriracha Chicken PizzaFor those of you living in the U.S., when was the last time you saw an ad on TV for cigarettes? No, I don't mean those silly vaping devices that are all the rage among hipsters today. I'm talking about good old-fashioned tobacco cigarettes. It has been awhile, hasn't it? Why do you suppose that is? Someone decided that cigarettes were bad for us and prohibited tobacco companies from running ads for them on TV.

When was the last time you saw an ad on TV for soda or fast food? Pretty much every damn time you turn on the TV, right? I haven't tested this, but it seems like every commercial break will include at least one ad for fast food or soda. After watching even a little TV, it is hard not to form the impression that a significant portion of our culture revolves around persuading people to consume things that are unhealthy for them. And then we have the nerve to complain about obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and other ailments which contribute to our rising healthcare costs.

Why are tobacco companies prohibited from advertising cigarettes on TV while fast food and soda companies can fill as many ad slots as they like? I assume that the answer is that cigarettes are engineered to be addictive in a way that soda and fast food are not. Fair enough. And yet, all of it is unhealthy.

Even though I don't smoke, I am not in favor of banning cigarettes. And even though I don't eat fast food, I am not in favor of banning it. I do sometimes wonder about whether we should be allowing companies to advertise either on TV. Most of the arguments I can think of that would support the advertising ban on tobacco products seem like they would apply equally well to soda and fast food.

Of course, figuring out where to draw the line with something like this is not always easy. Is there a difference between marketing junk food to children vs. adults? And what about what we see when we go to the local grocery store? The last time I was at the grocery store, I couldn't help noticing that most of the unhealthy food is heavily promoted and often costs much less than the healthier choices. Interesting how that works. It is almost as if we are being not-so-subtly steered in less healthy directions.

It is clear that the agenda behind all the soda and fast food advertising is not about our health; it is about the companies who make this stuff profiting at our expense. The same was once true for tobacco products, but we saw fit to do away with that. I wonder if we will eventually decide to do the same for fast food and soda?