Saturday, August 1, 2015
The attack of the checkout snacks is all around us

By DANIEL REYNEN Citizen Columnist

Remember when gas stations just sold gas? Now they have aisles of snacks, rows of drink coolers and hot food nearly every hour of the day or night. Every time you fill up your car is another opportunity to grab a few hundred extra calories. 

Hardware stores saw how profitable food was and decided to get into the action. Go into any big hardware chain store and look around. Instead of pocket tools and batteries at checkout, you’ll see snack racks and soda.

Office supply stores are doing it too. When I went to buy toner, there was a big display with high calorie snack foods that I had to walk around when I went to pay.

Department stores have had food in them for decades, but it used to be in a restaurant that had fruit and vegetables on the menu. Today, many offer nothing but pizza, soda and even more junk food at every register.

The same is true of chain pharmacies and drugstores.

In 2014, CVS Pharmacy made national news when it stopped selling cigarettes. The intent was to be taken seriously as a health care company. It was a huge step in the right direction, but the stores still have baskets of junk food staring back at you as you wait in line to buy your goods.

In one day of errands, I made six stops. I gassed up my car, grabbed some paper, bought a shirt, picked up a hammer, filled a prescription and got some wrapping paper. I never once stepped into a grocery store, yet every place I went to had chips, candies, cookies and soda tempting me at the register.

We really don’t need access to more food. I understand it’s easy to stock racks near a register with empty calories, but it’s killing us.

We’ve dealt with a problem like this before and been successful. In 1965, the first year the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) started keeping records on smoking, 42.4 percent of Americans smoked.

Laws were put into place that made it mandatory for TV networks to show one antismoking ad for every cigarette commercial that aired. That strategy was so successful at reducing smoking, that eventually the cigarette companies decided it was better to stop all TV advertising, than try to hide the dangers of their product in television ads.

Access to cigarettes was the next step. Vending machines that sold cigarettes to anyone with money were taken out of public places and moved to adult only venues. Laws requiring an ID before purchase were enforced and over time, more and more businesses quit selling them. In 2013, only 17.8 percent of adults now smoke, a 50 percent reduction.

It would be great if we could apply the same types of controls to junk food. For every ad showing happy people eating chips, we have an ad that shows how too much can lead to obesity, heart attacks and stroke. Whenever a candy bar is advertised giving someone energy, we explain how it also spikes blood sugar, rots teeth and can put you in the grave years sooner.

We need to limit access to junk food. But there’s a problem. Instead of making companies explain why it’s OK to sell products that harm us, the argument gets turned around. People scream we want to expand the “nanny state” and that any action to restrict what they’re peddling is an attack on their freedom or liberties.

To get meaningful reform, we’re going to have to hit corporations in the wallet. YOU need to reduce your exposure to the junk. When you buy gas, pay at the pump. Go to the hardware store that doesn’t carry chips at the register. Use the pharmacy that doesn’t sell candy when you check out. If there aren’t good local options, purchase your products online.

These companies absolutely have the right to sell products that are bad for you. We absolutely have the right to take our business elsewhere. Quit giving your money to companies that prey off your health.

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