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CNN TALKBACK LIVE

How Much Should U.S. Tell U.N.?; Should Government Protect Children From Secondhand Smoke?; Should Lawsuits Against Fast Food Go Forward?

Aired January 30, 2003 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ARTHEL NEVILLE, CNN HOST: Today on TALKBACK LIVE: how much information should the U.S. share with the U.N. Security Council to get support for war on Iraq? We'll talk about giving away secrets and the delicate balance between diplomacy and intelligence.
Then, is it up to the government to protect children from secondhand smoke? Meet a lawmaker who wants to put limits on smoking in cars.

And can you blame the fast food industry for the jiggle in your wiggle? A Florida congressman wants to limit lawsuits against the fast food industry. Who's responsible for all that fat?

The talk starts right now.

Hello everybody. Welcome to TALKBACK LIVE. I'm Arthel Neville.

President Bush says the standoff with Iraq is at a critical point and the window for diplomacy is fast closing. The word is weeks, not months.

Now, the president says there is a mountain of evidence against Iraq for Secretary Of State Colin Powell to present to the U.N. Security Council next week. Well today, former South African President Nelson Mandela joined U.S. critics calling President Bush arrogant and accusing the U.S. of committing unspeakable atrocities in the world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NELSON MANDELA, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: What I'm condemning is that one power with a president who has no foresight or who cannot think properly is now wanting to plunge at the world into a holocaust. All that he wants is Iraqi oil. That is all. Because Iraq produces 64 percent of the oil in the world. What Bush wants is to get hold of that oil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NEVILLE: OK. Here to talk about it, John MacArthur, publisher of "Harpers Magazine." He is the author of "Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War."

Also, Eleana Gordon, police director for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Want to welcome both of you to the show.

ELEANA GORDON, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Thank you for having us back.

Eleana, I'm going to go with you first. Are Mandela's words over the top or on target?

GORDON: They're absolutely over the top. How can he speak of an American holocaust, outrageous word to use, and not say anything about the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, how he has killed over a million people, how he has used chemical and biological weapons to gas his own people.

There are a million refugees inside Iraq today. If I were an Iraqi right now listening, I'd be horrified and befuddled that Mandela can't make the difference between a democracy and democratic and free countries and Saddam Hussein. Even if you're opposed to war, you cannot whitewash or even begin to compare Saddam Hussein and Iraq with the United States.

NEVILLE: John, do you agree with Eleana's perspective?

JOHN MACARTHUR, HARPERS MAGAZINE: No, and I think Mandela, while he's using exagerrated phrases like holocaust, which I don't approve of, because the real holocaust was a real holocaust.

GORDON: Thank you.

MACARTHUR: He's largely correct and he's on to certainly something when he talks about oil.

However, just saying it's oil is a bit of an oversimplification. There is a complicated political reason for going to Iraq. One of the reasons we want to go into Iraq, or Bush wants to go in, is because he can't catch Osama bin Laden. He can't break al Qaeda. And this is one reason that he would like to distract people's attention from the failure thus far to catch the leadership of al Qaeda or to break it up.

He also wants to distract people's attention from Saudi Arabia, which everybody now should know, is the source of a lot of the funding for al Qaeda but has a friendlier arrangement with our oil industry than Iraqis do.

So when talking about oil, he's partly correct. But there's more to it than just oil. There's a lot of political propaganda going on and a political capital at stake here.

It gives -- sorry. It gives people the impression that we're doing something in the war on terrorism by changing the subject from al Qaeda and bin Laden to Saddam Hussein.

GORDON: If we're talking about the oil dimension, I think it's worth pointing out some other aspects of the oil story that also feed in to this.

First of all, Saudi Arabia is actually one of the countries that would be most threatened by a free Iraq, because right now it has a monopoly on being able to hold on to oil supplies. If Iraq can completely freely produce oil, Saudi Arabia's going to lose its very privileged status. So, clearly, Saudi Arabia would be more against this.

The other dimension is who today has a large oil contract with Iraq? France, Russia, China. So the question should also be asked what are their oil interests?

NEVILLE: Oh, in fact, there is probably oil interest there.

MACARTHUR: That's a good question, but that's why we want to get in there is because we want to get the oil...

NEVILLE: Before some one else does.

MACARTHUR: ...before some body else does.

And also, on the Saudi question. The Saudis are not necessarily going to be overthrown, and there isn't necessarily going to be a democracy in Iraq after an invasion.

In fact, I would bet there will not be. There will be a new military dictatorship or a puppet government of the United States.

GORDON: If the Saudis have their way...

NEVILLE: OK. George (ph) from -- excuse me one second. I'm going see what you have to say, sir.

GEORGE: Well, we have a greater admiration for Nelson Mandela. When Nelson Mandela makes statements like that, it's certainly something that we would think about. It would seem too strong a condemnation of the United States but certainly would be something I would like to look at again or hear again. And the man is a very intelligent, a man of high world stature so...

NEVILLE: Well, we have more words from Mr. Mandela. Let's take a look at that right now.

Thank you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANDELA: Those with Bush as well as Tony Blair are undermining an idea which was (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They do not care. Is it because the secretary-general of the United Nations is now a black man?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NEVILLE: John, your reaction to Mr. Mandela's words?

MACARTHUR: Could you just summarize what he said? Because I lost the audio for a second.

NEVILLE: He was saying that, basically, because Kofi Annan is a black man, that perhaps the White House doesn't want to listen to him.

MACARTHUR: I don't think that's true.

I think that the U.N. is an annoyance for the Bush administration but it's not something that they're very much concerned about. My concern is that Kofi Annan will cave in to George Bush, not that George Bush is refusing to listen to Kofi Annan.

GORDON: And I'd like to remind everybody that two of our most senior members of our administration are Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. So if our administration was racist, why would we have such senior members who are clearly in support of enforcing the U.N. resolution?

The second point which isn't being brought up at all here is, what is at stake here is U.N. resolutions and enforcing them. Mandela's not even paying credit or allowing for the fact that the issue here is that Saddam Hussein for 10 years has been defying the U.N. and if the international community does not stand firm in enforcing these....

NEVILLE: So then Eleana, what do you think about the fact that U.N. weapons inspectors are asking for more time?

GORDON: Hans Blix didn't ask for more time, and Hans Blix said fairly clearly that they're not cooperating. Saddam Hussein is not cooperating. He's not giving a full disclosure. He essentially has told...

MACARTHUR: That's false. That's just false. He gave them a B minus. There's a big difference between not cooperating and...

NEVILLE: Hang on. Reverend Watley (ph), excuse me.

REVEREND WATLEY: Well I think the panelist is fairly inaccurate on a number of issues.

First of all, the U.N. inspectors, we know, have always been co- opted by our country and that Hans Blix does not explicitly state that they are not in full compliance, is his tongue and cheek way of saying we need more time. But because he is so beholden to this country, he is aware that his hands are tied. And even the statement today about the 11 countries saying that they support, Germany and France still do not. That's nothing but spin that's trying to put a better face on a bad situation.

The point is the Bush administration has failed to show a clear and present danger now. As you've said, for the last 10 years, Saddam's been doing this. So why now?

NEVILLE: So we're going to talk about that, Reverend Watley (ph), actually. After this break, we're going to talk about that, that Secretary of State Colin Powell is going to present more evidence, supposedly concrete evidence next week.

We're going to talk about that as well as well as this later in this hour. We'll talk to a who wants to ban smoking in cars when babies are strapped in. Should it be a crime? That's our "Question of the Day."

Go ahead and give me a call at 1-800-310-4CNN, or, of course, you can e-mail me at talkback@cnn.com. And I will take your comments later this hour. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Weeks not months. In other words, for the sake of peace, this issue must be resolved. Hopefully it can be done peacefully. Hopefully the pressure of the free world will convince Mr. Saddam Hussein to relinquish power. And should he choose to leave the country along with a lot of the other henchmen who have tortured the Iraqi people, we would welcome that, of course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NEVILLE: OK. We're talking about the next step in the showdown with Iraq. And John, starting with you on this particular segment, skeptics say show me the money. So I ask you, how much do you really want to hear from the administration before becoming concerned about sacrificing security and intelligence?

MACARTHUR: How much do I want to hear from the administration?

NEVILLE: Before being concerned that you're giving away too much information?

MACARTHUR: Oh. We haven't heard anything convincing from the administration, because they don't have anything convincing to show us. If they had something, they probably would have shown it to us by now, and I suspect that when Colin Powell makes his presentation next week, they will show vague pictures of trucks, satellite photos of trucks, and they're going to say, our spies tell us, and you just have to trust us on this, that the trucks are carrying materials for a nuclear weapons program.

And that's what they're going to do, because they don't have a smoking gun. And because they don't have a smoking gun, they're already changing the script. I heard it on CBS News the other night, they're now talking about, we don't need a smoking gun, because there's a forest fire. And so it just -- it just -- we don't need proof anymore. We're just going to go ahead and invade, because we know that he's in violation of the U.N. resolution. We just know it.

NEVILLE: Well, let see what Mandy (ph) says. Do you think that the administration has already given you enough evidence, or do you think you'll get enough evidence next week when Colin Powell speaks out? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I actually trust the president more and I believe that if they feel it is a threat, that it probably is one. I believe most of the evidence actually came from Hussein himself. He's demonstrated in previous behavior multiple times that he's willing to attack countries that are not involved in a war with him directly. He's willing to attack for oil and to take over other countries. He's demonstrated and has now documented that he has not fully complied with a U.N. resolution that he has to disarm. I'm not really sure what other evidence we need. I'm not quite sure why the country...

NEVILLE: So you say the time is now to invade Iraq?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The time is now to have him out of power. Nobody wants a war.

NEVILLE: Then how would you suggest, without a war, how do you suggest getting him, Saddam Hussein, out of power?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perhaps sometimes the threat of war is what makes someone decide to back down.

NEVILLE: But you keep reading here, he's saying he will go down fighting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then he will go down fighting.

GORDON: I'd like to step in. This is exactly right. I would like to also mention that those who have changed the script are those who are now calling for evidence. Let's go through the language of Resolution 1441. Nowhere does Resolution 1441 say that the international community must find a smoking gun. Nowhere. What Resolution 1441 says...

NEVILLE: Eleana, let me for a second, let me ask you personally a question. I want you to answer. I think you're well-informed, you have all this information, these facts in your head, but I want to ask you personally, OK, there is a little emotion here, are you convinced that it's time for an invasion?

GORDON: I am absolutely convinced that if we do not enforce the U.N. resolutions today, after 10 years of putting out words that are meaningless, that this will be a very dangerous world, that this is a world where other rogue states will take the message they've been taking for the last 10 years, which is this international community is meaningless. It talks a big talk, but it won't enforce anything. When Saddam Hussein defies the world, the world does nothing.

NEVILLE: Eleana, do you think, you know, Saudi Arabia's suggesting exile. Do you think that Saddam Hussein will go for that?

GORDON: I doubt he will. I would also be very concerned about Saddam Hussein doing a deal that actually leaves his henchmen in power, which really wouldn't change anything. This is not just about U.N. resolutions on disarmament. We also have U.N. resolutions about stopping persecution of the Iraqis. We're in a world where we talk about stopping genocide and we don't do anything about it. And by the way, Kofi Annan was one of those who turned a blind eye...

(CROSSTALK)

NEVILLE: ... should the U.S. go to every country where that's taking place?

GORDON: Well ...

NEVILLE: Let me take Jeb (ph) for one second, Eleana, because you are a member of the military and I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, my feelings about this, I've been in the military for eight years. Guess from the name tag where I'm at.

NEVILLE: Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We're getting nothing from Korea, we're getting nothing from Kosovo, we're getting nothing from Afghanistan. I mean, I'm not a politician, not a lawyer, not a doctor, I'm just a soldier. We go to Iraq is to help those people. U.S. soldiers can be dying for those people. I'm sick and tired of us not getting supported for it. That's all there is to it. We're not -- you know, we got these people here talking about a holocaust, U.S. domination -- you're 18-year-old to 40-year-old, black, white, Chinese, Japanese, Martians, whatever you are, are going to be dying to support the values of this country and the rest of the world when nobody else goes to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

MACARTHUR: What if the Iraqi people themselves don't share our values? How do you know they want our values imposed on them? Who gave us the right...

(CROSSTALK)

GORDON: The Iraqi people in the United States are expressing themselves. Have you spoken to the Iraqi opposition members and the Iraqi activists? There is a delegation of the Iraqi women...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Sorry. I'm going to cut you off. I'm sorry. I've got to jump in here, though. I'm not trying to get on a tangent or anything. It's not about us forcing values on anybody else. We're getting nothing from all the countries I've been to in the past eight year, we're getting nothing from them. But somebody's got to help these people. What are we getting from Afghanistan for rebuilding those countries? Do you think your average 19, 20-year-old kid wants to be there? No. But they're going to do it, because the rest of our country, if we've got to stand by our country, we've got to stand by the rest of the world, because nobody else is willing to do it nowadays.

NEVILLE: And how does that make you feel that you feel that there is not enough worldwide support? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to do what I've got to do. I think we're all going to do what we've got to do. But it doesn't matter (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it's a matter of picking up our own country's.

NEVILLE: Well, do you think it's right to go into Iraq -- hang on one second, John -- do you think it's a good idea to go into Iraq and take out Saddam Hussein?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My personal opinion, somebody has to do it.

NEVILLE: Do you think they can do it this time, though?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. Like I said, I'm down here. These guys are way up there.

NEVILLE: And by the way, you referred to yourself as just a soldier. Guess what? You are a soldier, and we really appreciate that. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

NEVILLE: Go ahead, John. Ten seconds.

MACARTHUR: Could I just ask the soldier if he also understands that he's a citizen, and that as a citizen he has to ask himself, Why are we going to Iraq? What if it turned out that the real reason we were going into Iraq was not to help the Iraqi people, but it was because we wanted to control the oil supply because we wanted to...

NEVILLE: Let him answer. I'm short on time. Hang on, John. Let him answer, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What have we got from Korea besides Hyundai, Daewoo and rice? What have we got from Kosovo? What have we got from Bosnia? What have we got from Afghanistan? Think about that.

MACARTHUR: That's what I'm saying. My point, it's not about building a democracy in these countries, it's about political power. It's about taking political power in a country, in a region, that doesn't want us there.

NEVILLE: OK, John. That is the last word. I'm out of time. John MacArthur, Eleanna Gordon, thank you both for joining us here on TALKBACK LIVE. We'll see you again.

Coming up next, a proposed law to stop people with little kids from smoking in the car. We'll talk to a Georgia legislator who wants to clear the air. Don't go anywhere. The talk continues after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NEVILLE: Should your car be a smoke-free zone? A new bill has been introduced in the Georgia legislature that would make a misdemeanor to smoke inside a vehicle while riding with children under age 4. Violators would be subject to a $30 fine, and Georgia State Representative Paul Smith is the author of that bill. He joins us here in Atlanta. Welcome, sir.

PAUL SMITH, GEORGIA STATE HOUSE: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here.

NEVILLE: OK, also with us is Lionel, nationally syndicated radio talk show host and attorney. Hello, Lionel. Nice to see you.

LIONEL, ATTORNEY: How are you?

NEVILLE: I am grand. Thank you very much.

OK, Representative Smith, what sparked this idea?

SMITH: Well, actually, the bill, the idea for the bill, came from one of our constituents, one of my folks that live in Rome, Georgia, that's where I'm from. And he kept seeing people in cars with the windows rolled up, a little 4-month-old or 4-year-olds with smoke just boiling out. And he said, Really, you ought to do something about it.

That's the reason for the bill. I this an excellent bill. I wish I thought of bout it.

NEVILLE: But $30, that really wouldn't stop anybody from doing it? You think?

SMITH: Well actually that $30 is the minimum. It could go up to $1,000 with a misdemeanor in the state of Georgia.

NEVILLE: How about make the minimum $1,000?

SMITH: For the second offense, maybe. But we're not trying to punish people. We're trying to make them aware that a little innocent child, 4-years-old and under, shouldn't be subjected to secondhand smoke in a closed in car. That's just common sense and we ought to not even think about doing it.

NEVILLE: Lionel, what are your thoughts about this?

LIONEL: There must be a lot of time on their hands in the Georgia legislature. Must not be any crime, any big deals going on there. What about 5-year-old kids? What's with 4? I understand that's the minimum age where they have to be strapped into a car seat.

Why do we have a law that bans pregnant women from smoking? I'll tell you right now, smoking is not good. We all know this, just like Saddam's evil. These are absolute truths. What we're doing right now is, this is a full-fledged warfare against the smoker. We hate them.

One of these days, smoking is going to be against the law. In the state of Florida, they passed a law that said you can't smoke indoors. Do you know that cigar makers under this stupid law can't even test the cigar they're making, which is a legal product? We've got it here in New York. You can't smoke in restaurants, can't smoke in bars. They just now pulled smoking out of jails. Do you know what that's going to be for inmates? Right now, the smoker is a -- there's a target on the smoker. We hate them. How many times...

NEVILLE: Lionel, honestly, come on, if you don't smoke...

LIONEL: You come on.

NEVILLE: I think I will, Lionel. What I'm saying here is that, I don't think that this is a matter of targeting smokers. If someone wants to smoke, that's his or her prerogative. I'm saying...

LIONEL: What about...

(CROSSTALK)

NEVILLE: Let's talk about that, actually.

LIONEL: The representative, how about at home.

NEVILLE: He's not talking about at home. Are you, sir?

SMITH: Lionel looks like he's big enough and old enough to know when to get out of the smoke. But a 4-year-old kid, they don't have choice.

LIONEL: What about a 5-year-old?

SMITH: We're trying to protect them. Well, I think that is for 4-year-olds, and we don't know how to check their age.

LIONEL: What does a seatbelt have to do with child ingesting smoke?

NEVILLE: But, Lionel, seriously, do you think it's a bad idea or a good idea? Is it OK to ride in a cooped up car, windows closed...

LIONEL: I think what we should do is, rather than legislate -- we're trying to legislate common sense. Why don't -- why doesn't CNN or somebody put on a public service thing that says, Hey, people, don't smoke in your car.

NEVILLE: I'm going to a break right now. I'll talk to you in a minute when I come back.

I want to know, in the meantime, if you think it should be illegal to smoke in a car while riding with small children? It's our "Question of the Day" so go ahead and give me a call, 1-800-310-4CNN or e-mail me. talkback@cnn.com, and we are back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NEVILLE: We're talking about a bill that would ban smoking in vehicles with small children inside.

And Lionel, I know you don't think that the bill or a law is necessary, but I wanted to ask you what do you think about the notion of seeing an adult ride in a car, windows up, kids in the back, what do you think than?

LIONEL: Oh, it makes me sick. What else bothers me, when I see a pregnant woman smoke I want to go up and slap her!

How about a pregnant woman drinking?

The biggest thing to talk about and nobody's talking about it, speaking of driving, because we have cell phone bans, who was the idiot who came up with the GPS unit? This global positioning satellite. So you're driving, looking at this thing which is basicly a TV monitor.

Should we ban everything?

Should we pass laws or try to appeal to...

NEVILLE: You know what? Those GPS systems you're not supposed to look at the screen. In fact there's an audio along with it, and the lady tells you, OK, at the corner turn right, two blocks down, turn left.

LIONEL: I know, but people say, this is terrific. Why don't we pass law next says women cannot put on lipstick in a car, people can't in the car read or argue with their kids. Like my father who used to hit me in the back.

NEVILLE: When was your dad going to slap you? I don't know why.

LIONEL: Because I was bad.

But are we going to legislate everything? I mean do we have to pass a law for everything?

NEVILLE: Yes. No, I understand your point. I get your point.

Let me go to Florida, right now.

LIONEL: I know you do, because you're very sharp.

NEVILLE: Travis is on the phone.

Go ahead Travis, I understand you have two children?

Hello, Travis, Are you there?

CALLER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pulled over in Georgia when this law was passed, and had to pay a fine whether it was $30, $100, or $100,000, where's this money going to? Who pockets this money?

NEVILLE: Now, Travis, hold on now. Do you smoke? I just want to know.

CALLER: Yes, I do, ma'am.

NEVILLE: Do you smoke with your kids in the car?

CALLER: Yes, but I have the windows down. So it's a big difference between having the windows up.

NEVILLE: OK, but seriously, Travis, you know, if it's 20 degrees -- well, you're in Florida, maybe it doesn't get that cold there. But still, the second hand smoke. You're not concerned about that?

Yes, I know, I have to take liability in the that, that's my own being I have to deal with.

(CROSSTALK)

NEVILLE: But, suddenly your children have to deal with that. And Lionel, our panelist wants to know, do you smoke at home?

CALLER: This is the question...

LIONEL: We should fine them at home!

CALLER: If you're going to fine me at home or whether you're going to fine me in Georgia, New York, Florida, wherever, where's that money going to go? Is that money to help people that have lung cancer or is that going to go towards cause? Or is that going in some politician's pocket?

NEVILLE: Let's see. Let's let Representative Smith answer this question. Where would the money go to? Would it go to educating people about the dangers of smoking, as if we don't know it enough?

SMITH: We are doing a lot of that. It could very well go that. But it would go to the state treasury. You know, the idea of trying to solve all of the problem, it's an impossibility. But if we're helping some kids just by helping them with their breathing problems, with future development. A doctor called this morning and said over 50 percent of the people that he has in smoke-filled rooms have asthma problems and breathing problems. There's no doubt a car would be worse than a house as far as being closed up in a smoke-filled environment.

LIONEL: What about a 5-year-old kid who's not strapped into a car seat why are they exempt? Does the parent have to say, wait a minute, hold it, he's 5. I have a birth certificate with me, he's 5, not 4. Smoke away.

SMITH: We can't stop cars and check birth certificates, sir. And can't see whether their in a car seat or not.

LIONEL: But what is this special concern about 4-year-olds? Look, let me go back to square one.

NEVILLE: Because that's where -- that's a legal age limit you have to be in a car seat. Tell me, Lionel. You got 15 seconds, Lionel.

LIONEL: You know what I really think? I think that when people go into the legislature, sit back and say, what crazy law can I pass today? What can I do?

NEVILLE: Is that so, Representative Smith?

LIONEL: No, I am serious.

SMITH: No. We have lots of real important issues that we face every day, the budget, transportation, education. All of these. But, in my opinion, if we can help some young folks have a healthier life as they grow up, it's well worth while to not make no apologies for it.

NEVILLE: OK, and that is the last word.

LIONEL: Well, it's too late to apologize!

NEVILLE: Georgia State Representative Paul Smith and Lionel, thank you both for joining us here today on TALKBACK LIVE.

OK, who's to blame when you supersize your way to obesity? A proposed law in Congress would ban those fast-food lawsuits. Is that a good idea? Or is it letting an entire industry off the hook? We'll talk about it after we come back. For those out there on the west coast eating your lunch, you won't want to miss this one!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NEVILLE: I'm Arthel Neville. Today on TALKBACK LIVE, we've been talking to a Georgia legislator who wants to make it illegal to smoke inside a vehicle when little children ride along. I want to know whether you agree with him. Give me a call right now at 1-800-310- 4CNN, or e-mail me at talkback@cnn.com. I'll take those calls and letters later this hour. The TALK continues. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NEVILLE: And welcome back, everybody. Smokers sued the tobacco industry. So can you sue the food industry for making you fat? Recently a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit on behalf of two teens whose blamed McDonald's for their obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Now Florida Congressman Ric Keller wants to stop these kinds of lawsuits, and is sponsoring the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act. Congressman Keller joins us now. Hello, sir.

REP. RIC KELLER (R), FLORIDA: Hello.

NEVILLE: Along with Mike Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Welcome to you, sir, as well.

MIKE JACOBSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Nice to be on.

NEVILLE: All right, Congressman, how would this law work?

KELLER: The gist of my bill is that there should be common sense in the food court, not blaming other people in a legal court whenever there is an excessive consumption of supersized fries and milkshakes and hamburgers. We think the average person knows with any common sense that if you consume an excessive amount of these foods that can lead to excessive calories and ultimately obesity. So we think common sense and personal responsibility are the key, because otherwise you're going to convert 18-year-old kids who work at McDonald's into bartenders, who look at chubby guys like me, and say, sorry, Congressman, I am going to have to cut you off. I can't give you that apple pie. Look at yourself, you've had enough.

NEVILLE: I'm just telling you right now, if I'm at McDonald's and they cut me off at the fry supply, it's on! Anyway, Congressman, when did you decide that such a law is needed?

KELLER: Well, later last year, the same trial lawyers who went after big tobacco got together in Washington, D.C. and they decided they would try to sue the restaurant industry for about $120 billion, which is roughly the amount spent each year, according to surgeon general, for obesity related costs. And you can say a lot about these trial lawyers, but they're not stupid. They're very creative, they were successful in going after big tobacco. And now the restaurant industry is right in their crosshairs. And I thought that was wrong, that it would lead to a lot of frivolous litigation and it would affect all of us, because our food prices would go up dramatically if these types of suits were allowed to go forward.

NEVILLE: All right, Mike, you've been silent over there. Want to hear your thoughts on this.

JACOBSON: Well, the underlying issue is that according to the federal government, the foods we eat coupled with lack of exercise kills over 400,000 people a year. That's a lot of harm related to our food, and we need to do some things about it. Now, we'd like to see different kinds of laws and regulations to help Americans choose healthier food, to stop junk food marketing aimed at kids, to get junk foods out of schools, but the Congress isn't doing that. And it may be time for litigators to go to court and say, it just ain't fair for junk food companies to be marketing their wares to little kids. I mean, they do one lawsuit, now another lawsuit...

NEVILLE: So, Mike, let me ask you this, though, is it OK, though, that -- do you agree with Congressman Keller's bill to ban...

JACOBSON: No...

NEVILLE: ... these lawsuits against food chains?

JACOBSON: No. It's ridiculous legislation. If there are frivolous lawsuits, our court system just weeds them out and they're tossed out. If they're sensible lawsuits, they should be allowed to move ahead. But Congressman Keller's bill would prevent that. We think that the courts have a place. I'd rather, frankly, have industry do things voluntarily. But they don't. McDonald's advertises to little kids. McDonald's doesn't list calories up on the menu board.

NEVILLE: Yes, but, of course they do. Of course they do. The happy meals. I mean, that's the point. That's been going on forever, though. There's Burger King had it, McDonald's had it when I was a kid, and so what? You knew not to each too much.

JACOBSON: The question is whether that's responsible, or whether you're hooking kids on junk food that promotes obesity, diabetes, heart disease and all the rest.

NEVILLE: Well, I'll tell you what, my mom would make sure I only had a limited amount of that stuff.

We have to take break right now. When we come back, we'll continue this in a minute. And you can tell us, do you want the option of suing fast food companies for your spare tire? Give us a call or e-mail us, and we'll talk about it after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(INTERRUPTED FOR COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)

NEVILLE: Welcome back, everybody. We're talking about whether people should be able to sue the food industry for making them fat. We're joined by Ric Keller, out of Florida. Congressman Keller, and Mike Jacobson, as well as -- Congressman Keller, I want to say this to you. These are numbers according to the surgeon general that public health costs attributable to overweight and obesity now come to about 117 billion a year, which is fast approaching the 140 billion a year stemming from smoking. So I ask you, could this be the next tobacco?

KELLER: Well, that's what the trial lawyers are hoping. But whatever law we pass is not going to affect personal choices that you make. Now, when I go to Wendy's, I personally prefer to get supersized fries, and a triple cheese and a frosty. But now that I've gone on my recent diet and I've lost about 35 pounds, I get the salad and a diet coke. There is no law that is going to force me to make that decision or force someone else. It's just a matter of personal responsibility, and I think that's what the answer is.

NEVILLE: Mike, isn't it about personal responsibility?

JACOBSON: Well, people should be responsible, but corporations should be responsible also. And I think this is frivolous legislation that's designed to get the companies off the hook. They are serving foods that contain enormous amounts of calories. Starbucks has drinks, coffees, with more than 750 calories. In these McDonald's meals, you just showed a sign from McDonald's meals. They should have the calorie content right on those signs. They should list the calorie content next to each item on the menu boards. And Congressman, I would support your legislation...

NEVILLE: You know what? Though, Mike, there are people, who if you had the caloric information there, they would see it, read it, and still order it.

JACOBSON: Well, that's their business. Then people could exercise their responsibility on the basis of information. Not on the basis of hype that they see on television.

NEVILLE: Last word right there. Congressman Keller, Mike Jacobson, sorry, we're out of time. Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Arthel Neville. I will see you again tomorrow, 3:00 Eastern, noon Pacific. Right now, stay tuned for Judy Woodruff and "INSIDE POLITICS."

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Children From Secondhand Smoke?; Should Lawsuits Against Fast Food Go Forward?>


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