Is Plastic Food Storage as bad as Cigarettes?

You don’t need to be a doctor to know smoking causes cancer. But that wasn’t always the case.

For years, smoking cigarettes was considered cool and maybe even, ah, healthy for new moms. 

When research linking cigarette use to cancer began to mount, the “nonprofit” Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), run by lobbyist Richard Berman, was born.

The CCF launched with a $600,000 donation from tobacco giant Philip Morris, who eventually gave 49 to 79% of its charitable budget to the Center between 1995 and 1998. In return, the CCF created a series of campaigns and polls aimed at proving that Americans weren’t interested in smoking regulation. All against the backdrop of the very public decline and eventual deaths of multiple Marlboro Men from Lung Cancer.

These days, the Center for Consumer Freedom is focussing its research on another product: plastic.

While average American consumers are now becoming aware of plastic pollution and the growing pacific garbage patch, they are less aware of evidence associating plastic food storage with cancer causing chemicals.  

When research emerged about the negative effects of chemicals such as BPA in Plastics, the American Chemistry Council (whose board members include Dow, DuPont, Marathon Petroleum, and ExxonMobil among others) lobbied against legislation to regulate BPA and similar chemicals in the US. In doing so, they hired many of the same scientists, consultants and PR companies that once worked for Big Tobacco. Their work resulted in the launch of a PR campaign featuring the slogan "Listen to the Science."

Sound familiar?

In addition, the CCF and ACC have used their money to sponsor specific environmental protection groups that were originally created to keep them honest.   

They also launched Plastics Make It Possible, a website which creates, shares, and sponsors “hip” posts about the benefits of plastic on websites such as Buzzfeed. Much of this content is about plastic’s positive contributions to medicine, human health, and the environment.

Single-use plastic companies have also launched campaigns which equate freshness from plastic with youth, health, and vitality, using similar creative executions over the last 60 years.

Consumers have long adopted plastic as a food storage convention and rarely think twice when food arrives in a plastic wrap or a plastic container.

But evidence has shown that chemicals from these plastic products can be traced  in our food and stool.

That’s why, for example, the wrapping on certain brands of salmon insist you don’t thaw your food in its package.

Of course, plastic is good for some things. But by applying Big Tobacco’s conversation steering strategies, Big Plastic appears to be steering a conversation about health, and begs the question asked by The Washington Post and others: why?

In the face of mounting evidence around plastic’s connection to cancer-causing chemicals, is all this talk from Big Plastic a red flag? Could groups like the American Chemistry Council be steering science to protect the plastic industry?

It took nearly 50 years for the public –– and the courts –– to catch on to Big Tobacco’s “conspiracy to defraud the American public about the health risks of tobacco.”  Something to think about the next time you put your veggies into a plastic bag.


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  • Thanks for helping change bad habits

  • I haven’t heard of any sous vide alternatives, unfortunately :(.

    We’re so glad to be able to offer deals that encourage you all to share and spread the word on how easy it is to Ditch the Plastic!

    Melanie from etee! on
  • I do a lot of Sous Vide cooking which requires the use of plastic bags (vacuum packed). Do you know of an alternative?

    Richare on
  • Just to be clear, while your bags (I assume) do a good job of replacing plastic wrap and I like the idea of less waste, the website rant against BPA is ridiculous. Not that BPA is bad, but it’s NOT IN MOST PLASTIC WRAPS…and has never been, so that includes the main replacement. (The only one it may be in is Glad’s Press-and-Seal wrap, per Good Housekeeping.)

    Your misleading of the public for your own gain is enough to make me not want to buy your product. How can you make charges against the industry for burying information and shady tactics while you employ the same??


    Jennifer K on
  • All of my family and friends got a package of etee wraps or bags for XMas this year. Thank you for having big sales so I can share your products!

    Angie Bell on
  • My students and I would like to cook a meal with food that hasn’t touched plastic. Not easy! Thanks for the article and continued support of reducing plastic!

    Debbie Millikan on
  • Thank you for the continued information about the risks of using plastic!!

    Susan Sherman on
  • Not to mention what plastic is doing to the ocean. When it breaks down into micro beads it is consumed by fish and other sea life and ultimately consumed by us!

    Sue Fan Ferguson on
  • I have bought and given away quite a lot of products recently… I thought I got an email offering a discount on my next purchase… I can’t find it. Is it from you or from the competition??? Honest, no joke question! I prefer your products over abeego, but if I continue giving them away I’ll be in trouble. Lol :)))

    Susie Starr on
  • I am horrified about plastic in our environment, not so much for people, but for wildlife. You are over-simplifying some of this and cigarettes are not plastic and vice versa. I have no love for corporate lobbyists or their paid shills. But don’t confuse that with academic science and become paranoid about putting something in a plastic bag. I don’t do that because I don’t want to contribute to the hundreds of tons of plastic entering the ecosystem, but food storage is just one tiny aspect of plastic pollution. Lets all put consumer pressure on producers to reduce packaging and lets stop buying plastic toys and other non-essential products. I know my car is mostly plastic inside and that’s probably necessary to save fuel (yes, I’m looking at electric next time around). Lets all ask our Grandmas how things were stored before plastic—mason jar anyone? Do kids really need all these sippee cups? If you can’t abide glass, how about paper? Anyway, it isn’t my health I’m worried about, its the mess in the ocean and the lack of interest in general in reducing plastic, especially for packaging. I’ve kind of rambled, and apologise for that.

    Mimi Camp on

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