Since the state Legislature used nearly all of the $560 million in tobacco settlement money to balance the state budget this year, lawmakers in search of other corporate deep pockets are eyeing the fast food industry.
“We’re going after Big Beef like we did Big Tobacco,” one enthusiastic Capitol Hill source says. “The logic is simple. Since McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s have moved into our state, the rates of heart disease and obesity among Tennesseans have skyrocketed. These are huge companies with massive advertising budgets, and they have put retail outlets on practically every corner in our cities and every exit on our interstates, and then targeted our people with fatty food and our children with cheap toy giveaways.
“The effect is they are making a lot of Tennesseans sick, and they should pay.”
Tennessee, reluctant to bite the hand that feeds so many of its citizens, was a foot-dragging latecomer to the tobacco lawsuit. Other states, including Mississippi, did the legal heavy lifting; the Volunteer State stood on the sidelines until it was time to divide up the money.
Such a passive stance won’t be the case with the fast food litigation.
“We are moving full steam ahead with this,” a source in the state attorney general’s office says. “If we have any prayer of a settlement before budget time next year, we have to get moving.”
“We haven’t seen the suit, but I would be astonished if any court would let it proceed,” Burger King spokesman Chuck Bovine says. “Our food is not harmful; in fact, it is delicious, nutritious, and is a great treat any time of the day or night.”
McDonald’s, a heavy advertiser on tax opponent Steve Gill’s radio show, is ready not only to fight the suit but also to profit from it.
“We’re going to open a portable drive-thru location near the state Capitol,” says McDonald’s spokeswoman Simone Packer. “And when Steve tells people to drive around and honk, we’ll be there so they won’t get hungry.
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