According to Politico.com, an attorney who formerly represented cigarette manufacturers and served as in-house counsel for a major food company has written to the attorneys general (AGs) of 16 states seeking to interest them in bringing a lawsuit against “big food” to recover the financial Medicaid burdens associated with treating obesity-related diseases. Similar to AG efforts in the 1990s that culminated in a $246-billion tobacco industry settlement with 46 states, this initiative has its naysayers and supporters.
A former AG, now directing Columbia Law School’s National State Attorneys General Program, claimed that the proposal will not gain traction because “[t]he food industry doesn’t deny that eating lots of food causes obesity.” On the other hand, Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy Dean Kelly Brownell said, “I don’t think it’s far-fetched at all. It’s probably not something that will happen immediately, but I don’t think it’s that far off.” Some have reportedly suggested that “food addiction” will eventually be the theory underlying food industry lawsuits, and plaintiffs’ lawyers will look for “smoking gun” documents to support the allegation. U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform President Lisa Rickard speculated that “the food industry has a big target on its back,” because plaintiffs’ lawyers, who contribute to AG election campaigns, are typically hired to do legal work for AG offices in exchange for part of the settlement.
Former Mississippi AG Mike Moore, who filed the first lawsuit against the tobacco industry and spearheaded the class action settlement, noted that AGs were initially reluctant to take on the industry—“The issue was too controversial. Nobody thought we had a chance to win.” Still, Moore distin- guished the products, “It’s just not the same. There is no safe use of cigarettes, but we live off food. I’d never say you can’t make a case. That’s all I heard for five years. But you’d really have to have some significant proof.” See Politico. com, February 12, 2014.