The Exercise of Well-Intentioned Control

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at the various means used to reduce consumption of alcohol and tobacco in America, in order to think about how those measures might be adaptable to the seemingly unstoppable epidemic of food overconsumption.

It would be lovely to say this post is a collection of the answers discovered in each mini-exploration, but every attempt to scrutinize some corner of this enormous issue seems to generate more questions, and to reduce the number of what might have previously been identified as answers. One thing to hold in overall awareness is that there are no exact parallels.

Alcohol addiction is acknowledged to be a real thing, yet there are drinkers who can put their addiction on “pause” for months or years, and still end up dying of it. Tobacco addiction seems to be as much psychological as physical. A doctor can spend 12 hours performing surgery without once thinking about a cigarette, and then literally run to the smoking area. People must eat, maybe not every day, and often not the food they would prefer, but they have to do it.

Slippery comparisons

A responsible medical team will hook up an unconscious patient to intravenous nutrients. Since quitting alcohol “cold turkey” can result in seizures and death, a conscientious physician could understandably administer decreasing amounts of alcohol, as the patient gradually detoxes. There is probably no circumstance where a doctor would introduce nicotine into a patient’s system.

Or…. is there? Nicotine has been used medicinally in the past. Apparently, there is evidence that the drug itself is the least harmful ingredient from which cigarettes are constructed. Few quit-smoking methods advise tapering off. They are more likely to say, “Pick a day and quit.” A person who is obese because of an unhealthy relationship with food and eating, cannot pick a day and quit.

Broadly speaking, discussions about the abolition of liquor, tobacco, and dangerous overeating are replete with comparisons that never quite align. There are many differences between dependency on nicotine or alcohol, and compulsive overeating. That inescapable fact leads to a multitude of questions about how the methods of dealing with any one of those problems could be applied to the others.

All three categories of substances are amenable to taxation schemes, which can be sold to a certain percentage of the public as desirable, especially if there is a promise to use the collected tax to fight the ravages of smoking or obesity. According to the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium,

Proposed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages raise many of the same policy and legal issues as tobacco taxes. The food industry’s arguments against them are also similar to those of the tobacco industry. Tax increases, as well as any laws limiting industry discounting practices […] are legally defensible as reasonable measures to reduce consumption.

Apparently, alcoholic beverages can be taxed by any jurisdiction they happen to land in, and taxed by multiple layers of government. But although the cost to society of excessive drinking is many times the amount that alcohol taxes bring in, those revenues do not seem to be vigorously applied to the problem. One source, for instance, gives the laconic answer, “Some states have been able to earmark revenues from alcohol taxes for public health programs.”

What follows will be a guide to and summation of the main takeaway, or in many cases the still unresolved questions, from each post on this complicated topic.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “All about Nicotine (and Addiction),”
Source: “Applying Tobacco Control Lessons to Obesity: Taxes and Other Pricing Strategies to Reduce Consumption,”, March 2010
Source: “Alcohol Tax Revenues, Social and Health Costs, & Government Expenditures,”
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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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