Lawsuit Alleges Coca-Cola Uses Misleading Marketing to Downplay Risk of Sugar

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05 Jan 2017 --- US non-profit movement, The Praxis Project, that calls for social change and seeks to build better communities has filed a complaint in the federal court of California against Coca-Cola and trade body, the American Beverage Association, claiming they are deceiving consumers about the harms of consuming Coke and other sugar-sweetened drinks. 

The suit contends that the beverage giant and its trade association are engaged in an unlawful campaign of deception to mislead and confuse the public about the science linking consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Coca-Cola and the ABA have a strategy of shifting focus away from sugar-sweetened beverages to a lack of exercise as a principal cause of the obesity epidemic, according to the suit, which was filed on January 4, and also led consumers to believe that all calories are the same, when science indicates that sugar drinks play a distinct role in the obesity epidemic. 

“From the 1950s until the late 1990s, the tobacco industry engaged in an elaborate campaign of disinformation to cast doubt on the science connecting cigarettes to lung cancer and other diseases,” says Praxis representative in court, Maia C. Kats, litigation director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“Today the soda industry is engaged in its own campaign of disinformation to cast doubt on the science connecting sugar-sweetened beverages to obesity, and obesity-related diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Through this lawsuit, Praxis seeks to stop Coke and the ABA from deceiving the public on the science linking obesity and related diseases to regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.”

According to a CSPI press release, the 40-page complaint alleges that the marketing plan was sophisticated and multifaceted; that Coca-Cola “funded and publicized biased scientific research, substantially orchestrated a drumbeat of deceptive ABA press releases on science and health, and ran false and misleading advertising campaigns.” 

The complaint also claims that Coke and ABA used what is describes as ‘deceptive messages’ about hydration

“There’s no hydration crisis in the communities we work in,” said Praxis Project executive director Xavier Morales. “What we have is a crisis of diabetes, a crisis of obesity, and a crisis of soda marketing that increasingly targets communities of color and young people in particular.”

The suit seeks declarative and injunctive relief that would, among other things, stop Coke and the ABA from engaging in “the unfair and deceptive marketing” of sugar-sweetened drinks, including any direct or implied claim that the drinks do not promote obesity, type 2 diabetes, or cardiovascular disease, and any marketing directed to children. The complaint also asks the court to require Coke and ABA to disclose all corporate documentation and communications relating to the health impacts of sugar drinks and obesity, and to fund a major corrective education campaign to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

A spokesperson from the Coca-Cola Company told FoodIngredientsFirst: “This lawsuit is legally and factually meritless.  We take our consumers and their health very seriously and have been on a journey to become a more credible and helpful partner in helping consumers manage their sugar consumption.  To that end, we have led the industry adopting clear, front-of-pack calorie labeling for all our beverages.  We are innovating to expand low- and no-calorie products; offering and promoting more drinks in smaller sizes; reformulating products to reduce added sugars; transparently disclosing our funding of health and well-being scientific research and partnerships; and do not advertise to children under 12.  We will continue to listen and learn from the public health community and remain committed to playing a meaningful role in the fight against obesity.”

Earlier this week, FoodIngredientsFirst reported how despite a legal challenge that involved the American Beverage Association, a tax on sugary sodas and diet drinks came into force in Philadelphia on January 1, 2017. 

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