Lawyers are pitching state attorneys general in 16 states with a radical idea: make the food industry pay for soaring obesity-related health care costs.
It’s a move straight from the playbook of the Big Tobacco takedown of the 1990s, which ended in a $246 billion settlement with 46 states, a ban on cigarette marketing to young people and the Food and Drug Administration stepping in to regulate.
Who is behind the action?
McDonald’s [not be be confused with the food company by the same name] law firm has allied with a number of well-known obesity and diabetes researchers, including Barry Popkin at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Robert Lustig at the University of California San Francisco and economist Frank Chaloupka at the University of Illinois at Chicago, to help hash out the strategy. . . . “We need policy to change,” said Lustig, who recently got a law degree and launched a nonprofit to continue his advocacy. “I think we’re going to have to battle [the food industry] like we battled tobacco.”
Some are skeptical:
James Tierney, director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School and former attorney general of Maine, laughed when asked about the proposal.
“It’s just not going to happen,” said Tierney, who noted that tobacco companies lied about the health effects of their products for decades. “The food industry doesn’t deny that eating lots of food causes obesity.”
Others are cynical:
The proposal drew ire, in part, because it would rely on a contingency fee agreement, which allows a private firm to do legal work for attorneys general offices in exchange for a cut of the settlement. It’s an increasingly common practice because it allows cash-strapped AG offices to tackle expensive litigation without taking as much risk.
“Pay-to-play relationships between [plaintiff’s attorneys and attorneys general] that exchange campaign contributions for lucrative government lawsuit contracts mean the food industry has a big target on its back,” said Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform