“Is Sugar the New Tobacco?” BMJ Study Explores Tobacco’s Role In Marketing Children’s Sugary Drinks

Tobacco industry giants built some of the leading sugary drink brands that have been marketed to children over the past 50 years, reveals a major study published in The BMJ yesterday.

The study, which analyses archives of industry correspondence recently opened to the public as part of a landmark US court settlement, focuses on how the two largest US-based tobacco industry conglomerates, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds, began acquiring soft drink brands in the 1960s, and used know-how gained from tobacco to develop some of the leading sugary drink brands marketed to kids, including Hawaiian Punch, Kool-Aid, Capri Sun and Tang.

Illustration of brand development of Hawaiian Punch by US Tobacco Conglomerate RJ Reynolds from adult to children’s drink, and following brand acquisition by Dr Pepper Snapple.

“Tobacco executives transferred their knowledge of marketing to young people and expanded product lines using colours, flavours, and marketing strategies originally designed to market cigarettes,” notes the BMJ study, co-authored by four researchers from the University of California, San Francisco Institute of Health Policy Studies, Department of Medicine, and elsewhere.

The tobacco firms eventually sold these brands to globalised food and drink corporations. The corporations pledged in 2006 to promote “responsible children’s advertising,” through the US industry’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), including commitments “to shift the mix of advertising primarily directed to children (‘child-directed advertising’) to encourage healthier dietary choices.”

However, despite the CFBAI pledge, most of the corporations that acquired the popular children’s brands “were continuing in 2018 to implement some of the tobacco companies’ integrated marketing campaigns to reach very young children,” the BMJ study says.

Sugar sweetened beverages are a risk factor for obesity as well as diabetes and other diseases. Young children are particularly susceptible to the persuasive influence of adverts for sugary drinks, notes the BMJ study, and the World Health Organization has urged governments to tighten food and drink marketing restrictions to protect children.

Image Credits: The BMJ.

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