Follow the Money

I’m not ready yet with my next installment in the gentrification series, so I’ll return to one of my other recurring topics, a small-business association whose stated goal is preventing 7‑Eleven stores from opening in the East Village. I am referring, of course, to No 7‑Eleven NYC. They posted a flurry of tweets two days before the law was to go into effect banning the sale of sugary drinks in cups or containers larger than 16 ounces. Here is one of them:

In another tweet No 7‑Eleven NYC posted, they advance the idea that once in place, the law will be ineffective, because people will go into 7‑Elevens and bodegas to buy their sodas (which they seem to think they will then be permitted to take into restaurants and movie theaters), but in the one above they claim that the ban will hurt bodegas. The fact is that, while the ban would not have affected 7‑Eleven, neither would it have affected bodegas. Bodegas don’t sell sugary drinks in cups, and bottles and cans would not have been affected by the law.

But there are bigger issues than this. Back in January they tweeted:

The day after Judge Milton Tingling blocked the ban from going into effect, the NY Times ran an article detailing the relationship between the soft-drink industry and community groups around the country:

    Dozens of Hispanic and African-American civil rights groups, health advocacy organizations and business associations have joined the beverage industry in opposing soda regulation around the country in recent years, arguing that such measures — perhaps the greatest regulatory threat the soft-drink industry has ever faced — are discriminatory, paternalistic or ineffective.

    Many of these groups have something else in common: They are among the recipients of tens of millions of dollars from the beverage industry that has flowed to nonprofit and educational organizations serving blacks and Hispanics over the last decade, according to a review by The New York Times of charity records and other documents.

These activities echo those of the tobacco industry, that for decades contributed to minority and women’s organizations, encouraging them to focus on concerns other than smoking. Leaders faced a real conflict: either accept the money, or speak out about the disproportionate toll of tobacco on the health of minority populations. Women’s groups, heavily supported and buoyed by support for events like the Virginia Slims Tennis Tour, were silent on the rapidly escalating epidemic of lung cancer in women, focusing instead on breast cancer and other problems. (Advocacy Institute 1998).

When speaking publicly about their products, the beverage industry uses a playbook similar to that used by the tobacco industry, that focusses on “personal responsibility,” raises fears of government action destroying personal freedom and civil liberties, criticizes studies that hurt the industry as “junk science,” and promotes physical activity over diet.

Both industries’ tactics rely heavily on “personal responsibility” arguments that claim regulation isn’t necessary because it’s up to consumers to make healthy choices, yet they spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually to undermine personal responsibility. On February 24, the NY Times published an article describing the efforts food companies have made over the years to addict people to their products:

    As the sensory intensity (say, of sweetness) increases, consumers first say that they like the product more, but eventually, with a middle level of sweetness, consumers like the product the most (this is their optimum, or “bliss,” point). …

    “[M]outh feel.” This is the way a product interacts with the mouth, as defined more specifically by a host of related sensations, from dryness to gumminess to moisture release. … [T]he mouth feel of soda and many other food items, especially those high in fat, is second only to the bliss point in its ability to predict how much craving a product will induce. …

    “[S]ensory-specific satiety.” In lay terms, it is the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. … The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.

Efforts to encourage these industries to self-regulate are failing. Instead, the companies are consolidating power by building financial connections with health agencies and non-governmental organizations — and using that power to lobby politicians to oppose health reforms. In the February 23 issue of the English medical journal The Lancet, a team of researchers from around the world wrote:

    [T]hrough the sale and promotion of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink (unhealthy commodities), transnational corporations are major drivers of global epidemics of [non-communicable diseases] NCDs. … Despite the common reliance on industry self-regulation and public—private partnerships, there is no evidence of their effectiveness or safety. Public regulation and market intervention are the only evidence-based mechanisms to prevent harm caused by the unhealthy commodity industries.

On the day the ban was halted, No 7‑Eleven NYC retweeted:

That’s where they stand.

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Further reading:

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