Buyer Beware: If ever there were a time to heed that ancient maxim, it’s now. This case centers on revealing information about a high-level marketing campaign by Big Tobacco, aimed at transforming another unhealthy product– this time, sugary drinks– into a staple of the daily diet of American children.

It’s worth a read. Not just for the drama but as a way of understanding how our own big corporations can undermine efforts to improve public health in America.

If you’re a fan of conspiracies, you might look in this direction. Tobacco sales were in decline and the big companies were frantically searching for new sources of revenue. Kids just happened to be one.

Did the folks at Corporate go into this with their eyes open, realizing how much harm could result? Hard to imagine they didn’t. So the question is, did they just not care?

Reminds me of “Thank You For Smoking, the Christopher Buckley novel and film about tobacco marketing. The movie’s protagonist is a smooth-talking PR type who specializes in TV appearances intended to counter good science by arguing that cigarettes are not bad for your health. He knows cigarettes are bad for us, of course– so do the people who hire him– but he has a product to push, and that simply overwhelms other concerns.

He and his fellow flacks from the liquor and firearms industries jokingly refer to themselves as “The Merchants of Death” when they meet over cocktails in the evening. No Big Pharma firms were included in the original film, but if there’s ever a remake…

A quote from the article: ”Using child-tested flavors, cartoon characters, branded toys and millions of dollars in advertising, the companies cultivated loyalty to sugar-laden products that health experts said had greatly contributed to the nation’s obesity crisis.”

We can’t call ourselves a capitalist system without acknowledging that some folks are more than willing to harm others in pursuit of personal gain or old-fashioned greed. In many instance, it’ll be an unfair fight between enormously well-funded, politically savvy industry lobbyists and a few determined nonprofits that advocate for public health.

It’s not a battle that the little guy can win on a consistent basis.

So it’s ultimately up to us, the consumers, to become knowledgeable about the ways companies influence us to make decisions in their best interest rather than our own. Including health.

If that’s a subject interests you, I recommend a classic book by Robert Cialdini. You can read it here: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.