Big Sugar Borrowing Tactics from Big Tobacco

by Vins
Published: Updated:

The Union Of Concerned Scientists (UCS) reports that “food and beverage manufacturers along with industry-supported organizations such as trade associations, front groups, and public relations firms” have actively sought to ensure that Americans continue to consume sugar at high levels. As the UCS report documents, the sugar industry has adopted many of the same tactics previously developed and employed by the tobacco industry, including: attacking scientific evidence; spreading misinformation through industry websites, research institutes and trade associations, to deceive the public; deploying industry scientists; influencing academia; and undermining policy.

For example, in 2003 the World Health Organization (WHO) was to publish its Global Health Strategies on Diet and Health (GHSDH), which included a report that recommended lowering sugar consumption. In response, the CEO of the Sugar Association threatened to “exercise every avenue available… including asking congressional appropriators to challenge future [WHO] funding”. When the GHSDH was released the following year, it did not contain the recommendation on reduced sugar consumption. In 2009, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Co. and the American Beverage Association lobbied against a proposed federal sugar-sweetened beverage tax, spending more than $37 million. And in 2010, food and beverage companies along with related trade associations made “substantial political contributions” to members of the U.S Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, which has responsibility for the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA). Among other goals, the HHFKA sought to implement healthier school lunches, for example by eliminating sugary drinks.

The UCS report recommends greater accountability and transparency combined with science-based policy to counter the sugar industry’s aims.

Source:  “Added Sugar, Subtracted Science: How Industry Obscures Science and Undermines Public Health Policy on Sugar,” Union of Concerned Scientists, June 2014,

Student Researcher: Kaitlin Allerton (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)