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Twinkies should be the new cigarettes, David Lazarus says

June 29, 2010 | 11:36 am

What to do about the obesity epidemic? Here's a thought: Substitute "tobacco" for "junk food." That provides a pretty clear road map about what government authorities should be doing to safeguard public health.

Twinkie That’s the opinion of David Lazarus, our colleague in the Business section who writes a column focused on consumer issues.

He’s certainly not the first to propose taxing soda, Twinkies and Big Macs as a way of forcing Americans to cut back on these fat-, salt- and sugar-laden foods that we all know are bad for us but still can’t seem to resist. Experts at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and elsewhere have been advocating a tax for sugar-sweetened beverages for some time now.

The idea that junk food can be ostracized, as with cigarettes, through taxes and stigmatization is irresistible to many people. The logic of it seems undeniable – when something costs more, people will buy less of it. But as we have explained in the Los Angeles Times and on Booster Shots, the real-world data shows that taxes implemented to date have not led to any weight loss, even in cases in which the tax did prompt people to reduce consumption of the specific item taxed.

At least Lazarus’ argument doesn’t rely entirely on taxes. He applauds the efforts to get sodas out of schools and suggests a similar strategy for buildings occupied by grown-ups:

… a good place to start would be government buildings — eliminate all bad-for-you foods and beverages. Instead, make healthful alternatives available. Gradually, if the political will can be found, expand the junk food ban to all workplaces, just as smoking bans spread from the public to the private sector.

Lazarus also makes an argument heard often from Booster Shots readers – get rid of the subsidy to corn farmers and they might produce less high-fructose corn syrup.

You can read his entire column here.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Think of these Twinkies as oversized cigarettes. Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

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