Coca-Cola has been accused of using tactics similar to the tobacco industry in minimising the damaging health effects of its fizzy drinks and deceiving customers.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Praxis Project accused Coca
-Cola and the American Beverage Association, of misleading customers, including children, regarding the health risks of consuming sugary drinks such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
The lawsuit could potentially shake the soft drinks industry to its core as the company could face marketing restrictions and soda taxes. Praxis, a non profit group, compared Coca-Cola and ABA's efforts to those of the tobacco industry decades ago.
“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,” Maia Kats, litigation director for the centre, said in a statement. “Like the tobacco industry, Coca-Cola needs to replenish the ranks of its customers, and it tries to recruit them young,” Praxis said in its complaint, filed Wednesday in federal court in Oakland, California.
Praxis accused both defendants of using euphemisms such as "balance" and "calories in, calories out" to mislead consumers, and Coca-Cola, the world's largest beverage company, of trying to mislead the public into thinking a lack of exercise was the real cause of obesity.
The American Beverage Association and Coca-Cola acknowledged the lawsuit.
Kent Landers, a spokesman for Coca-Cola called the lawsuit "legally and factually meritless.” He said: “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."
The American Beverage Association called the lawsuit's accusations "unfounded."
The lawsuit comes as beverage companies are trying to fend off regulatory assaults on multiple fronts. A new sugar tax on the soft drinks industry will be introduced in the UK, following the examples of France, Mexico and a set of US cities including San Francisco and Philadelphia.
Coca-Cola previously pledged to increase efforts to reduce added sugar in its products.
Last year, it changed its Coke
Zero recipe and renamed it to Coca Cola Zero Sugar to make it “taste more and look more” like the original one. Coca-Cola took the decision after it found that half of British consumers were unaware that Coke Zero contained no sugar.
“Since 2012 our commercial strategy has focused on accelerating the growth of our no-sugar options. We know that millions of people love the taste of Coca-Cola and have been working to refine the recipe of Coca-Cola Zero to match the taste of the original – but without sugar,’’ said Jon Woods, general manager of Coca-Cola Great Britain.
Additional reporting by Reuters
By Zlata Rodionova - the Independent/Jan. 5, 2017
Photo: Justin Sullivan, getty