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Multinational food, soda and alcohol industries pose a health challenge that rivals tobacco

 ’Fool Me Twice’ exposes their tactics to derail policies that could save millions of lives

(New York, USA) – The pandemic of preventable non-communicable diseases (NCDs) will kill more than a billion people in the 21st century – including children – unless governments act to curtail the influence of the food, beverage and alcohol industries. These industries pose a health and economic threat that rivals tobacco – and governments must regulate them accordingly. “Fool Me Twice,” a new report by Vital Strategies, exposes the tobacco industry tactics adopted by these multinational companies to delay, minimize or stop governments from adopting life-saving policies like taxes on unhealthy products or restrictions on marketing to children.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like heart disease, cancer and diabetes account for 70% of global deaths. Of the record 42 million children under five years old that are obese or overweight worldwide, 75% of them live in developing countries. Increased consumption of processed foods and drinks – those containing high levels of added sugars, salts, and fats – tracks closely with growing levels of NCDs worldwide, according to the report.

“The tobacco industry playbook shows that tobacco companies prioritize profit over health. They work tirelessly to deter, delay or defy protective government regulations that save lives but may impact sales. The food, soda and alcohol industries have adopted the same tactics, fighting sensible policies like mandatory warning labels, taxes and restricting marketing to youth. To address the pandemic of cancer, diabetes and other NCDs, we need to keep all these industries away from policy formation,” said Vital Strategies President and Chief Executive Officer, José Luis Castro.

50 years after the watershed Surgeon General report linked smoking to cancer, the tobacco industry is now airing court-ordered public messages admitting to their intentional deceit of consumers about tobacco’s addictive nature and health harms.

“These industries use the same tactics to avoid strong and effective policy. Shame on us if we get fooled again,” said Rebecca Perl, Vice President, Partnerships and Initiatives, Vital Strategies, a co-author of the report. “We know the policies that work to save lives and we need to focus our efforts there and not be distracted by their sleight of hand.”

The report proposes four key recommendations:

– Strong regulation is critical. Countries must be able to develop and implement sound, World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended policies without industry interference.

– WHO, the UN system and member states should not allow multinational food, beverage and alcohol companies to engage in NCD policy development or formulation. Nor should they accept money from these sectors.

– Transparent and robust conflict-of-interest policies must be implemented at the international and national level.

– NCD prevention efforts and policy must be driven by uncompromised, independent research and evidence.

Representatives from Vital Strategies, including Mr. Castro and Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, will speak about global strategies to reduce NCDs at the upcoming Global NCD Alliance Forum on December 9-11, 2017, in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. One topic on the agenda is the commercial determinants of NCDs – the products that increase the risk of disease and premature death.

The report is also available in Spanish and Portuguese.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health expert, please contact