DesJarlais introduces legislation to end stimulus funded “attack ads” against soft drink industry

Authored By James Harrison

Rep. Scott DesJarlais introduced his fourth bill Wednesday, taking aim at advertisements against unhealthy foods and beverages paid for by federal stimulus funds. 

The bill, called the Protecting Foods and Beverages from Government Attack Act of 2012, would prohibit federal monies from being used for advertising campaigns with ads targeting any food or beverage deemed “safe and lawfully marketed” under federal approval, such as soft drinks and fast food. 

DesJarlais, a physician, said he understood the need for emphasizing healthy living but added that stimulus funds should be geared toward promoting American jobs, not targeting companies offering legally approved products to customers. 

“As a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, one of my chief responsibilities is to track how funds from President Obama’s stimulus package were spent,” DesJarlais said in a news release. “I was alarmed to find that $230 million in grant money was used, in many cases, to run advertisements attacking America’s soft drink companies. As a physician, I believe in promoting and encouraging healthy lifestyles, but the American taxpayer should not be forced to subsidize campaigns that push misleading information intended to scare consumers.”

DesJarlais was referring to recent advertisements posted in areas such as New York City, Philadelphia and Seattle that link soft drinks to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. One advertisement seeking to discourage soft drink consumption reads: “Your kid just ate 26 packs of sugar.”

Raymond Thomasson, president of the Beverage Association of Tennessee, said DesJarlais was looking out for the state’s soft drink industry, which is comprised of 17 bottling and distribution facilities and more than 5,000 employees. Thomasson said his group had been discussing the legislation with the congressman since April. 

“These stimulus grants created what were deemed to be educational ads to promote anti-obesity programs, which assaulted our products and our industry,” he said. “We felt that was an inappropriate use of those funds . it was almost the equivalent of the skull and crossbones that were talked about being placed on packs of cigarettes.”

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.