WASHINGTON — We are desperately searching for a topic on which the White House may speak without raising the hackles of every breathing Republican. It is difficult.
But in this season of good will and gluttony, we are called to worry, by the Obama administration, about obesity among our young. The White House has raised this as a subject of grave national concern, and we rejoice, seeing a parallel.
Back in the Paleozoic age of TV advertising, tobacco companies were forced to fund anti-smoking ads aimed at children.
Children nagged smoking adults to quit. Parents hid cigarettes from disapproving progeny. But cigarette ads no longer are permitted on network TV and thus there is no coordinated industry-funded anti-smoking ad campaign aimed at children. States still collect about $25 billion a year from the federal government’s 1998 agreement with the tobacco industry and taxes but spend only 2 percent on anti-smoking efforts, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Last year the federal Centers for Disease Control conducted a three-month general anti-smoking campaign, resulting in 100,000 adults quitting, according to the medical journal The Lancet. The campaign cost $54 million, compared with $8.8 billion spent on advertising by the tobacco industry.
The moral? Media campaigns work. Adult smoking has declined although the National Cancer Institute says it still accounts for 90 percent of lung cancer deaths among men and 80 percent among women.
Having looked at such evidence, President Obama, who told a U.N. official he hasn’t smoked for several years because he’s scared of his wife’s disapproval, heartily approved Michelle Obama’s current campaign to reduce childhood obesity.
The first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign is just the beginning. She complained at a White House conference in September that marketing to children of foods high in sugar and fat is a serious problem. She wants it to stop. The Federal Trade Commission estimated in 2006 that about $1.8 billion is spent on advertising junk food to American children; 70 percent of TV ads on children’s programming are for empty calories.