Friday, 12 October 2012

Those evil corporations

An exciting new job vacancy has opened up at Bath University...

Corporations and public health: exploring the impacts of corporations on non-communicable diseases and public health policies

Arguably the greatest challenge for public health lies in reducing the contributions of tobacco use, unhealthy diet and harmful alcohol consumption to the rising global burden of non-communicable diseases. Tobacco, alcohol and food related diseases are essentially industrial epidemics.

No alcoholism or gout in pre-industrial times, then? No lung cancer is peasant societies? No "food related diseases" before capitalism (only malnutrition and starvation).

Adapting traditional public health constructs, the concept of industrial epidemic identifies the role of the host (the consumer), agent (the product), environment and, crucially, the disease vector (the corporation).

If a disease is non-communicable it cannot, by definition, have a disease vector. And if a disease is not communicable, no amount of sophistry and goalpost-shifting can disguise the fact that it is not a public health issue.

A disease that is spread by a commonly owned public source (eg. water, air) can properly be dealt with by public authorities. No one wishes to be unknowingly struck down by infection and since goods held in common ownership can only be improved by collective action, preventive measures are desirable and necessary.

However, non-infectious diseases that may or not come about as a result of private action are manifestly matters of private, not public, health. The attempt to compare private transactions between companies and consumers to germ theory is cute, but it is utterly spurious.

Although relatively well developed in the study of tobacco (in part due to the availability of internal tobacco industry documents following US litigation), analysis of the vector and its interaction with the environment has been less thoroughly researched in other areas of non-communicable disease. Nevertheless emerging work suggests a strong degree of policy coherence and learning, as well as collaboration, between alcohol, food and tobacco companies and other industries making products harmful to health and the environment. Despite this overlap, the policy responses to these different vectors vary widely. While Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control specifically seeks to prevent tobacco industry influence on policy and supply side regulations are now a key part of tobacco control, alcohol and food policies are more typically based on partnership and voluntarism and consequently focus more on individual behavior change and less on the role of industry in shaping consumption.

But not for much longer if these people get there way. Food and alcohol industries—and their customers—should be worried.

This fellowship provides an opportunity to shape a research agenda on the influence of corporations (particularly food and alcohol companies) on health and health policy, building on existing work on tobacco already underway at the university.

No slippery slope there, then.


Applicants should upload a CV and a two-page outline of their research plans over the next 3-5 years, showing how these complement and enhance existing research within the relevant priority area.

For informal enquiries, please contact Prof Anna Gilmore email:

What an opportunity to have a cosy chat with an over-promoted half-wit who thinks it is illegal for companies not to maximise profit and who can't tell basic economics from a hole in the ground. Who better to supervise a project about corporations? Good grief.

Is there any doubt about what Gilmore's new drone will conclude? "The tactics of the food and alcohol industries mirror those of the tobacco industry... blah, blah, blah..." (ie. they make products people want, market those products and sell them to willing customers—shut 'em down!)

I will leave you with the words of Christopher Hitchens, written nearly twenty years ago:

Much of this militant prohibitionism is fuelled by a stern sense that those who practice it are standing up to the big, ruthless corporations... I am, of course, as shocked as anyone else to find out that big corporations can behave unethically when it comes to research and marketing. But I have never met a smoker who began the habit under the impression it was good for the pipes, and neither have you. Anyway, try a simple thought experiment. Would great and courageous social reformers... relax their attitude one bit if I grew my own tobacco and rolled my own, handmade cigarettes? The question answers itself.


Fredrik Eich said...

"food related diseases"
I have always said that food is the only product that when used as directed kills it's users.

Jean Granville said...


Jean Granville said...

Chris, no relation with this post but I've been wondering for some time about the claim that cigarettes kill half their users.
50% seems a bit much and I was wondering if you adressed that claim somewhere. I remember from VGIF that your figure would be closer to 20 or so.

nisakiman said...

@ Jean Granville
Jean, Cigarettes kill all their users eventually, as does not smoking. Whether or not smokers die earlier than non smokers on average is a moot point, but research suggests that smokers do die earlier than non smokers. Junican has been looking at the Doll and Hill studies, and re-drew one of the graphs that resulted from that study:

which does show that smokers die a bit sooner than non-smokers. But not much. And of course, the years that smokers lose are probably the years that are going to be the ones most plagued with disease and disability. So it rather comes down to a choice between quality and quantity.

Chris, I trust you will email Prof. Gilmore the link to this post? I'm sure she would appreciate your insights. Or perhaps she would be more inclined to put her fingers in her ears while chanting "la-la-lala-la I can't hear you..."

Jonathan Bagley said...

Would great and courgeous social reformers relax their attitude one bit if I bought an electronic nicotine vapourisng device invented by a Chinese smoker, concerned about harm from tobacco, and sold by small new companies, many of whom criticise tobacco smoking?

Jean Granville said...

Thanks, Nisakiman. I agree with your points, but what I'm specifically curious about is the "50%" talking point.
In France, the advertising campaign from the Health Ministry added to that claim some newspeak innovation, with the claim that 50% of smokers die "from tobacco", as if "tobacco" was a disease.
But really, I wonder how they came up with 50%. Did they simply inflate statistics, or did they conflate all deaths from diseases that can be caused by smoking, so that a non-smoker who dies from a heart attack is reputed to have died "from tobacco"?
I haven't been able to find anything about that, so I was asking here, just in case.

Snowdon said...

It used to be 25%, then 33% and now 50%. I think the 50% figure first came to prominence after Doll & Peto's 50th anniversary study came out about ten years ago. A lot of diseases have been classified smoking-related in the mean time but I haven't studied the claim in any depth.

No need to email her. We know she and her goons monitor blogs like this at the expense of taxpayers in the SouthWest. All out of the hospital budget too. Nice work if you can get it.

Jean Granville said...

Thanks Chris.
I suppose the next logical step is 75% then.