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Report: Hostess May Have Marketed Unhealthy 'Twinkies' To Minors

WASHINGTON, DC–According to a controversial Federal Trade Commission report released Tuesday, food manufacturer Hostess may have intentionally marketed "Twinkies"–a dangerous snack cake linked to obesity and hyperactivity–to minors.

The controversial cartoon mascot critics claim targets children.

"There is substantial evidence supporting the claim that, for decades, Hostess has carried out an aggressive marketing campaign with the goal of promoting Twinkie use among underage consumers," the FTC report read. "Our nation's children have been targeted for the consumption of these fattening, unwholesome cakes at a vulnerable age, before they are old enough to make responsible decisions about health and nutrition."

The report also stated that "as a result of Hostess' targeting of minors, millions of young bodies have been exposed to potentially harmful substances such as fat, sugar, cholesterol, polysorbate 60, calcium sulfate, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and caramel color."

Among the questionable Hostess marketing tactics the FTC report cites: positioning Twinkies billboards in the direct view of schoolyards, airing Twinkies ads on Saturday-morning TV and, most notably, developing and aggressively promoting "Twinkie The Kid," a smiling, lariat-wielding cowboy cartoon mascot shaped like a Hostess Twinkie.

"With Twinkie The Kid, Hostess has deliberately set out to glamorize the Twinkie-eating lifestyle among our nation's young people," the report read. "Since Hostess' introduction of this Twinkie-advocating cartoon spokescake in 1975, use of the product among 12- to 18-year-olds has risen an alarming 240 percent."

A group of Stockton, CA, teens eat Twinkies behind their junior high school.

"Eating Twinkies is cool," said Emporia, KS, 16-year-old Jason Warriner, who has been a Twinkie user since age 11. "I didn't like them at first, but all my friends were eating them, so I started doing it too because I wanted to fit in. Now, I love them–I'm practically addicted."

"Twinkies are the best," said Utica, NY, 14-year-old Chris Petoskey. "My mom won't let me have them, but I sneak out and eat them behind the 7-11 whenever I get the chance."

Alarmed by the product's rise in popularity among minors, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) recently drafted legislation aimed at curbing underage Twinkie use. The bill, which allocates $255 million for PSAs and after-school specials like ABC's recent The Boy Who Liked Twinkies, would also prohibit the snack cake from being advertised in youth-oriented publications like Boys' Life and Archie comics. Additionally, it would also ban the airing of TV ads featuring Twinkie The Kid before 10 p.m. Similar Hostess characters, including Captain Cupcake, Chauncey Chocodile, King Don and Fruit Pie The Magician, were voluntarily pulled from the air in the late '70s amid similar controversy.

A 1994 internal memo from Hostess CEO Jack Hollis to the company's VP of marketing.

Hostess received more bad news Tuesday, when 17 states joined together to file a $206 billion class-action suit to settle claims over the costs associated with treating overweight Twinkie eaters. The suit is based on a precedent-setting 1996 case in which a North Carolina jury held Tastykake responsible for a 460-pound Creme Krimpies addict's death. Tastykake was ordered to pay the victim's family $950,000, the largest-ever award of punitive damages in a snack-food-related casualty.

Despite numerous American Medical Association studies linking Twinkies to obesity, hyperactivity and tooth decay, Hostess officials vehemently denied that sustained use of their product causes any adverse health effects.

"Contrary to AMA claims, there is no conclusive evidence demonstrating that regular consumption of Twinkies poses any significant health risk to the eater," Hostess chief corporate counsel Richard Weingarten said. "Furthermore, the character of Twinkie The Kid is a thoroughly adult character who engages only in mature activities not in any way recommended for children, such as law enforcement and rodeo theatrics. Twinkies are as safe and socially responsible as they are delicious."

Added Weingarten: "Responsible, consenting adults get a big delight in every bite of Hostess Twinkies."

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