High-tech, tobacco and junk-food manufacturers don’t use their own products

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by Dr. Eowyn

What does it say when the founder, owner or CEO of a company makes it a point not to use the company’s product?

Reporting for Popular Science (via pocket), Eleanor Cummins calls the actions of these CEOs “an important bellwether — a sign of problems consumers may not even know they’re facing.” According to Cummins:

From tobacco to food manufacturing to social media, executives and insiders are subtly sounding the alarm in actions, if not in words. Their behaviors provide insight not just into the risks of certain consumer products to children, but to adults, too….

Plenty of executives believe wholeheartedly in products that are clearly dangerous or, at best, a waste of money (think supplementsactivated charcoal, or fad diets). But…many more executives use their insider knowledge to make different personal choices than the ones they promote to the public. Like the canaries in the coal mines of their own creation, when the CEO squawks, we should listen.

The following are some striking examples:

(1) High tech and social media:

  • The late Steve Jobs, who founded Apple Inc., forebade his kids to use the iPad or any other product their dad invented. According to a 2014 report by Nick Bilton of The New York Times, and Walter Isaacson, author of the definitive biography Steve Jobs, Jobs’ family was low-tech. Jobs said his children “haven’t used it [the iPad]. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.” Every night, the family had a phone-free dinner together, and his children were not “addicted at all to devices.”
  • Another software executive said he’d “seen the dangers of technology firsthand,” from bullying to tech addiction, and wanted to protect his children from those experiences.
  • In 2017, Microsoft founder Bill Gates revealed he had both age and habit-related rules for his three children. Gates told The Mirror: “We don’t have cellphones at the table when we are having a meal. We didn’t give our kids [cell phones] until they were 14 and they complained other kids got them earlier.” Gates said that although smartphones and related devices were useful for “homework and staying in touch with friends,” they had the potential for “excess.”
  • Mike McCue, founder of Flipboard, said of social media during a 2017 appearance on the Recode Decode podcast: “It’s like if you ate potato chips all day long. You have to have a balanced information diet. There’s nothing wrong with looking at Facebook. If that’s all you do then you’re just going to be a product of that.”
  • Former Google employee Tristan Harris and his colleagues at the Center for Humane Technology gray out their smart phones’ screens and turn off all (or all non-essential) notifications.
According to a 2018 analysis by the Pew Research Institute, 45% of teens said they were “online on a near-constant basis”. Today, the average American gets their first phone at age 10, and spends 5 hours a day on their phone. That translates, according to one analysis, to touching, swiping, and tapping our phones 2,000 times a day, between getting up and going back to sleep.

(2) Tobacco executives:

  • Susan Cameron, former CEO of Reynolds American that makes Camel cigarettesstopped smoking “conventional cigarettes” more than 15 years ago and turned instead to electronic cigarettes, which some believe are a healthier, though no less addictive, alternative.
  • David Crow, then the managing director of tobacco company BAT Australia, regularly warned his children to avoid the very products he made, according to a 2011 report in The Sydney Morning Herald. Crow said: “It’s bad for you. It says it on the pack. I’ve got a 13-year-old, an 11-year-old and a seven-year-old and if they smoke I tell them absolutely, categorically, ‘Do not smoke’.”

(3) Junk food manufacturers:

In his 2013 book Salt Sugar Fat, Michael Moss documented the ways in which food manufacturers hacked our taste buds and designed snacks, sodas, and other grub that keep us “hooked.” There is a class issue at work in processed foods, in which the inventors and company executives don’t generally partake in their own creations. Publicly, these companies have broadcast their efforts as a boon to convenience, satisfaction, and savings—despite mounting health concerns. But privately, many junk food executives and their families avoided their own products, including:

  • Bob Drane, the creator of Lunchables, argues that the pre-packaged snacks save parents time, and that the benefits outweigh the health problems. But Drane’s daughter, Monica, doesn’t allow her children anywhere near Lunchables. She calls Lunchables “junky” and “awful” and said although her children know Grandpa Bob invented them, “we eat very healthfully.” Lunchables contains 13 teaspoons of sugar and two-thirds of the daily recommended sodium intake for children. Still, Drane has come to believe that his industry—if not the Lunchables product specifically—should acknowledge its accountability for issues like childhood obesity, one of several causes he’s taken up as a volunteer.
  • Howard Moskowitz, who led the effort to develop Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper, said: “I’m not a soda drinker. It’s not good for your teeth.” When goaded by a reporter to take a sip of Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper, Moskowitz called the drink “terrible” and “overwhelming.”



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