The Role of the Law in Protecting Public Health in the Context of Addiction: The US Tobacco Litigation Model and the Future of Food Regulation

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Kelly Brownell
Essay Abstract: 
The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of law, specifically litigation, in protecting public health in an environment featuring easily accessible, potentially addictive and harmful substances. Obesity is a widespread public health concern, and
there is growing evidence that highly palatable processed foods could be addictive. The tobacco and food industries share many similarities; by exploring the history of U.S. tobacco litigation in the context of nicotine as an addictive substance, this history can be used as a model to inform future food litigation and obesity prevention. Research presented in this paper is also used to determine the current landscape of public opinion regarding food addiction. Although the public does not yet consider food to be addictive, there is evidence that litigation could be a successful tactic against the food industry in the future in order to reduce obesity’s burden of disease.