But in the 70s these companies were still making the uneasy transition between denial and nihilistic acceptance. The idea that you could make cigarettes healthier, that you could acknowledge the warnings but claim they did not apply to your own product, became a central defence and marketing ploy. New “filter” cigarettes (themselves sometimes tainted with dangerous chemicals) flooded the market, falsely claiming to protect against the worst harms of smoking. Thousands switched to “low-tar” cigarettes in an effort to make a healthy choice.
“Considering all I’d heard, I decided to either quit or smoke True. I smoke True” ran one advert in 1976, featuring a sporty-looking girl at a tennis net – “The low-tar, low-nicotine cigarette”.
And this is where we are, I think, in 2024, with what used to be called junk food, and which is now beginning to be called ultra-processed food. UPF is food that has at some stage been ground into unrecognisable pulp and bathed in additives, a definition that is gaining acceptance among experts. But it is nothing too new. We are now, and have been for years, talking about the kind of food that encourages us to eat vast quantities of salt, sugar and fat in one barely chewed gulp. It is hamburgers, crisps, chocolate bars, ice-cream, fizzy drinks and pappy processed cereal.
As with cigarettes in the 70s, much of the evidence is in. Junk food is linked to cancer. Two landmark studies last year showed UPFs caused heart disease and strokes. It is also beyond question that these kinds of foods cause obesity, a condition linked to 30,000 deaths a year in England alone. One in five children are obese by the final year of primary school and levels of obesity are spiralling upwards. Unhealthy diets are, worldwide, now killing more people than tobacco.
The second two paragraphs are wholly, entirely, bollocks.
But they’re going to try to ban tasty food all the same.