Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hot dogs kill . . . ?

In March, Liverpool (England) Councilor Paul Twigger proposed a by-law meant to end the distribution of free toys with junk food promotions.

“We consider it is high time that cash-hungry vultures like McDonald's are challenged over their marketing policies which are directly aimed at promoting unhealthy eating among children”, said Mr. Twigger, before going on to say, "The Liverpool smoke-free team had a great success with their campaign and their ideas played a massive part in the nationwide blanket ban last year. There's no reason why we can't achieve a similar feat”.

Councilor Twigger, it appears, was encouraging the use of the same tactics used by anti-smoker groups to target tobacco users in their war on smokers in an upcoming war on obesity. Unfortunately, those tactics include fear mongering to promote behaviour modification and save children from hazards which may or may not exist.

A new TV commercial which began airing last month in several U.S. cities, uses children in a scare mongering campaign launched by a group called the Cancer Project.

Three young children appear in the thirty second ad, speaking as adults. The first, a young boy, tells us: “I thought I’d live forever. I was dumbfounded when the doctor told me . . . I have late stage colon cancer”. Another, a young girl, says: “It’s been really tough on my husband, my kids and me. Cancer affects the whole family”.

Throughout the commercial, there are scenes of youngsters wolfing down hot dogs and pizza, while a voice over at the end tells us: “Cancer risks start early. Even small amounts of processed meats can lead to adult cancers”. At the same time, an on-screen message exhorts people to: “Help get processed meats out of our schools”.

It’s an emotional message with no redeeming educational value; fear mongering at its emotional best; propaganda, pure and simple. In short, it’s a thirty second clip designed to create a distorted reality and instill an irrational fear that hot dogs and pizza represent a serious health hazard to children.

The public should be educated about potential health hazards, whatever they may be. But the growing trend in the health scare industry is not to educate or advise. More and more we are seeing well orchestrated campaigns, not to identify or resolve health issues, but to influence (and often inflame) public opinion.

And, children are being used to relay these messages of fear and intolerance.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the war on smokers. The tactics of fear have been honed to a fine edge by anti-smoker fanatics. The health risks to children and adults alike have been exaggerated beyond all reasonable proportion. Non-smokers have been complacent about, and even supportive of, the war on smokers. But, tobacco and smokers were only the first targets.

The reality is that the tactics of fear used by anti-smoker activists are being incorporated by similar activist groups in campaigns to eliminate other behaviours deemed unacceptable.

Who will be next? What’s your vice?

There’s an excellent article, ”Does Hot Dog Cancer Ad Go Too Far?” by Lindsey Tanner on AOL News where you can also view the commercial.

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