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January 16, 2024
Oct 26, 2023
The Future of Population Health
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Context: Commercial lobbying is often a barrier to the development and implementation of public health policies. Yet, little is known about the similarities and differences in the lobbying practices of different industry sectors or types of commercial actors. This study compares the lobbying practices of four industry sectors that have been the focus of much public health research and advocacy: tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and ultraprocessed foods.
Methods: Data on lobbying expenditures and lobbyist backgrounds were sourced from the OpenSecrets database, which monitors lobbying in the United States. Lobbying expenditure data were analyzed for the 1998–2020 period. We classified commercial actors as companies or trade associations. We used Power BI software to link, analyze, and visualize data sets.
Findings: We found that the ultraprocessed food industry spent the most on lobbying ($1.15 billion), followed by gambling ($817 million), tobacco ($755 million), and alcohol ($541 million). Overall, companies were more active than trade associations, with associations being least active in the tobacco industry. Spending was often highly concentrated, with two organizations accounting for almost 60% of tobacco spending and four organizations accounting for more than half of alcohol spending. Lobbyists that had formerly worked in government were mainly employed by third-party lobby firms.
Conclusions: Our study shows how comparing the lobbying practices of different industry sectors offers a deeper appreciation of the diversity and similarities of commercial actors. Understanding these patterns can help public health actors to develop effective counterstrategies.
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The Milbank Quarterly is an editorially independent multidisciplinary journal that offers in-depth assessments of the social, economic, political, historical, legal, and ethical dimensions of health and health care policy.