Sugar & Corn Syrup Are The New Tobacco

Sugar and Corn Syrup Are The New Tobacco 

I smoked my first cigarette at age nine. These things happen when you’ve got older brothers and wild neighbor kids!  Even in 1978, we knew smoking was bad for one’s health.

Two decades later in 1998, Big Tobacco (the four major cigarette manufacturers) settled a class action suit brought by 46 states and a few other government entities for $206 billion.  

Why am I comparing tobacco with sugar and corn syrup? There are several reasons. They’re all agricultural products. They have many detractors. Each can be bad for one’s health depending on usage.  Governments tax or seek to tax all three.  And the biggie…tobacco has been sued.  The other two will be soon. 

Incidentally, I don’t smoke cigarettes any more, and neither do most Americans. The percentage of smokers today is down to 14 percent.  In 1965, it was 42 percent.  That’s the same year the movement against tobacco took hold with warning labels being required by law. 

Right now, we’re in a similar early era in the movement against sugar and corn syrup. And yes, warning labels are coming.  

Public perception of sugar — and even more so, corn syrup — is becoming less positive. Have you seen the Bud Light commercials? 

We in Agriculture may not like to see our products attacked, but when it comes to sweeteners some of the concern appears warranted.  

Health Is Not Our Sweet Spot 

37 percent of Americans are obese while another one-third of the population is overweight.  In 1980, the obesity rate was 12 percent. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Type 2 diabetes levels are nine times what they were in 1958.  We used to call Type 2 diabetes “adult onset” diabetes.  We don’t refer to it as that anymore. America’s children now suffer from Type 2 diabetes as well.  

This may not be the fault of corn syrup and sugar, but the correlation between increased sugar consumption, obesity, and diabetes is real.  

Increasingly, the public is not sweet on sweets.  Documentaries like Fed Up, narrated by Katie Couric and filled with food activists including Bill Clinton, paint a bad picture for sugar and corn syrup. 

Food companies, the documentary claims, have intentionally fattened us up with sweeteners for years. The documentary even compares sugar to cocaine in the way it affects our brains.  

What does all this mean?  

Consumption of sugar and corn syrup will decline…a lot. The decline may be a matter of choice, but it’s more likely due to taxes. 

Several municipalities from Philly to Seattle implemented soda taxes.  Aided by cause groups villainizing “Big Sugar” and “Big Corn Syrup,” governments will enact heavy taxes promising they’ll make us less heavy.  

The villainization and taxation will vary based on local sentiment.  Again, comparing to cigarettes, North Carolina and Virginia assess only 25 to 40 cents of tax per pack.  In New York, conversely, the tax on a pack of smokes is $4.35.  Iowa won’t see it in their state’s interest to prohibitively tax corn syrup.  Likewise, North Dakota - where they produce a lot of sugar beets - won’t join the anti-sugar brigade. 

After public sentiment and public policy turn markedly against sugar and corn syrup, come the lawsuits. Soda companies will be early targets and then processed food makers.  

Have you noticed soda company ads touting smaller serving sizes, exercise, and calorie counting?  These companies are posturing for litigation.  The United States is the most litigious country on Earth.  The kids are fat and you have diabetes, so somebody needs to pay!   

Speaking of paying, we’ll pay more for food and beverages containing sugar and corn syrup. Taxes and litigation have that effect.  

The question is: will taxes and lawsuits make us more fit or simply make the government more fat?  

Damian Mason is a businessman, speaker, author, podcaster, agriculturalist, commentator, and food guy.  Find him at 

Angie Carel