If sugar is the new tobacco, are Cereals the new Cigarettes?

Posted by on Apr 30, 2013 in Blog, Food | 0 comments

1 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 Google+ 0 Pin It Share 0 Email -- Email to a friend 1 Flares ×

The parallels between sugar and tobacco is an issue that is gaining momentum – and not before time.

Some 40 years after the publication of the brilliant British nutritionist John Yudkin’s prophetic “Pure White and Deadly,” Dr Robert Lustig has picked up the baton and is leading the charge.

Here’s the 3 point summary:

  1. It is accepted that Sugar is “bad for you” – but do we really know how bad? Dr Lustig and co thinks it should be labeled a toxin.
  2.  Coca Cola and co spends millions to tell us “it’s not the sugar” because it’s all about balance and by the way the average American only consumes 7% of their total calorific intake from soft drinks anyway.
  3.  Pure white and Deadly had been out of print since 1988 – until now. It’s back in print – driven by popular demand and the viral nature of the new anti sugar movement.

Now I am not a medic and I view the world through a very different lens, so the interesting thing for me is that each of the above issues is intrinsically linked to a commercial motive.

In the first instance, there is very little research of substance into the goodness, badness or relative toxicity of sugar. Why? Simply put, there is no commercial gain accruing to any party that may seek to prove the precise “badness” of sugar.  The blockbuster replacement trick has already been done anyway. It’s called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and it’s a multi billion dollar/euro/pound/take your pick it’s everywhere industry wallowing in enormous sums of money and government support.

Disclosure time –

In a previous life I was part of this problem. I was involved with the creation and very successful launch of an isotonic sports drink into the Irish market. Off the back of an alignment with local sports stars and a well-run campaign, Club Energise would debut at No. 2 in a busy marketplace – ahead of Powerade.

The commercials of the deal were such that I would later point to it as the best commercial sponsorship/licensing deal I had ever inked in a 15 years sports marketing career. It was a deal worth many millions and therein lies the problem – and the challenge – that Lustig and co now face.

The war against sugar is not a battle to prove the extent of the damage it does to health. This is not low fat versus high fat. The basis for agreement is already there – medical opinion is consistent that sugar is not a great thing. The only debate is whether it’s kinda bad or very bad or so bad it’s a poison bad.

The real war will be fought and won on commercial turf. And this is where Yudkin is already very relevant. During my research for Cereal Killers I found it odd that his book was no longer available. Used copies were selling for upwards of £100 and I clearly needed to get my hands on it. It wasn’t easy but I got there in the end with some help from Yola – my ever-resourceful Director. That Pure White and Deadly is now available again is good news for the anti sugar movement. The reason why it is back in print is perhaps even better news.

Yudkin’s work shot from nowhere into the top 5 most sought after unpublished books in 2012. Penguin sat up, took notice and ran the presses again.


Lustig’s standout Youtube offering “Sugar, the bitter truth” is the Gangnam sytle of medical lectures @ 3 million + views. Who would’ve thought it? A viral medical lecture!!


So what now?

Big Food will ignore Lustig et al and continue to bewitch us with advertising, sponsorship and strong branding. The debate has not gone commercial yet and it is up to the anti sugar brigade to get it there.

Strong visuals and a neat target are critical. Chasing down an entire industry is just too tough. Pitching the tent outside a brand is a much easier place to start.

“Is Sugar the new tobacco?” is already overplayed. Likewise folks know soft drinks are not good for you. This campaign needs a more effective target and a smart guerilla strategy.

If I were to choose one very visible target, it would be breakfast cereals. A U.S engineer called R.B Choate did just that back in 1971. He told a U.S Senate Sub Committee that cereals barely qualified as food. Then cereal brand by cereal brand he proved it.

So I would pick up Choate’s layman’s baton and explore that tobacco angle a little bit more. One box at a time.


I would fight them on their own ground.

I would use smart packaging to deliver a strong message VISUALLY. Just like they do.

And then I would ask one simple question -

If sugar is the new tobacco, are Cereals the new Cigarettes?







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>