Zipping Through the Comparisons Between Tobacco and Food

An interesting study highlighted the complex relationships between the circumstances involved in smoking. Yes, our old friend multifactorialism shows up here, as in so many places. The authors looked at a particularly troublesome area, “occasional smoking.” The wrote,

Factors such as social pressure, weight control, positive reinforcement and taste are the main motivators for smoking in this group, unlike the “daily smokers”, whose motives are related to current theoretical models for dependence, involving tolerance, craving, loss of control and withdrawal symptoms. Thus, two forms of behavior need to be studied separately in future studies.

The occasional smoker has a low degree of dependence on cigarettes, and yet a paradoxically high level of difficulty in quitting. But the current received wisdom is that people are hooked because of physical addiction. What explains this? The authors seem to say that people who don’t smoke very much may have a harder time quitting than the constant smokers, which is interesting, but not necessarily relevant to compulsive overeating.

The relevant part is that in obesity, the multifactorialism is much more obvious. When smoking is the problem, there are plenty of societal, emotional, and other facets to deal with, but only one substance, nicotine. But food is an enormous category of substances, all grown and processed and prepared and combined in so many ways, the variables involved in figuring it out are insane.

Here, we pick up from a previous post, “Zipping Through Anti-Obesity Possibilities,” in an overall attempt to learn whether anti-obesity efforts, especially those imposed by government orders, can borrow from smoking cessation efforts or programs designed to end alcohol addiction.

“Parallels in Tobacco, Alcohol, and Food Control”

Great Britain has tried, with small success, limiting sales promotions like “buy one, get one free.” It has tried encouraging manufacturers to include less sugar in soft drinks, with limited results. In the USA, anti-smoking activists have pushed the idea of putting less nicotine in each cigarette, which would probably lead to people buying even more cigarettes and enriching the tobacco moguls even more.

Prohibitionists were happy about 1998’s Master Settlement Agreement, which was supposed to encourage better behavior from the tobacco industry, but which mainly, in effect, bribed the states to allow pretty much the same behavior as always. Plus, consumer prices went through the roof. As disincentives go, price seems to be a weak one. If people want a thing, they will buy it, or steal it.

Just days ago, it was announced that the federal government wants to raise the legal smoking age to 21 in every state. Does anyone foresee any problems? Unlike heroin and cocaine, tobacco does not have to be smuggled into the country, so the expense involved with international transport and payoffs to officials and border guards would not even be a drawback.

An incredible amount of illegal money is just waiting to be made. Could this possibly lead to the greatest growth of criminal organizations since alcohol Prohibition? The vendors of this illegal product would not all be seasoned mobsters, either, but high school students selling to their peers. It might be quite a mess.

Then, imagine trying to follow it up with anti-obesity legislation based on age. Who would decide the appropriate age for purchasing soda pop or cupcakes? Who would be in charge of deciding which of the thousands upon thousands of separate and distinct consumer products would be age-limited? As much as everyone wants answers to the obesity epidemic, the age limit idea is probably a non-starter.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Tobacco smoking: From ‘glamour’ to ‘stigma’. A comprehensive review,”, 10/09/15
Source: “McConnell introduces bill making the legal smoking age 21,”, 05/20/19
Photo credit: independent designer on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

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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