Childhood Obesity News has been looking at the idea of taxing sugar or, more specifically, of taxing sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), which many people think is a good idea. To influence public opinion in the opposite direction, the soft-drink corporations and their lobbyist/apologist, the American Beverage Association, have encouraged various types of professionals to defend the anti-tax point of view on social media. Often, this encouragement consists of actual payment, and some people don’t think it’s right.
The old saying “Caesar’s wife must be above reproach” means, among other things, that political leaders shouldn’t hang around with mobsters, because we tend to judge people by the crowd they run with. In the most general meaning, it behooves those in authority to keep their noses clean, and not do anything, even accidentally, that could be mistaken for a dishonest move.
Of course, real life doesn’t work that way, and plenty of officials are on the take, as headlines show every day. The young and innocent parts of our grownup minds want to believe that top-shelf scientists are better than that. In an ideal world, they would not only guard their images more carefully, but actually hold themselves to the highest standards of veracity and integrity. And many do, though it is not easy. The appearance or suspicion of corruption can be just as damaging as a court-proven case.
Speaking of court, someone is suing Coca-Cola for deceiving consumers about the negative health impact caused by the corporation’s numerous sugar-saturated products, and for claiming that SSBs have no connection with obesity, diabetes, or cardiovascular disorders. An additional claim is that Coke “engaged in a pattern of deception” intending to mislead the public and the government about its so-called Responsible Marketing Policy, which particularly affects children under 12, their parents, and society as a whole.
The plaintiff is an advocacy group called The Praxis Project. Writer Sharon Snell suggests that the action “could turn the whole tide on the so-called sugar wars”:
The lawsuit, which was launched on January 4, 2017, is being brought under California’s unfair competition law and false advertising law to stop Coca-Cola and the ABA from conducting false and misleading marketing of their sugar-sweetened beverages. If successful, it would have a significant impact on Coke’s business and opens the floodgates to product liability claims.
“Liability” is a word that no fizzy-drink exec wants to hear, because it means the company has to take responsibility for one of many possible negative outcomes. If tobacco manufacturers can be sued for causing cancer, why shouldn’t SSB peddlers be sued for causing diabetes? According to the Centers for Disease Control, close to 30 million Americans suffer from diabetes. It could be the most enormous class-action suit ever.
Sure, the corporations have rafts of lawyers and gigantic budgets. In their eyes, losing a few criminal liability cases is just a routine cost of doing business. A corporation can bounce back from an impropriety charge much more readily than an individual scientist. Still, it’s bad publicity, and could cause stock prices to drop. Snell writes:
The NGO [non-governmental organization] says Coke and ABA have engaged in a pattern of deception for years, aimed at misleading and confusing the public (and governmental entities that bear responsibility for the public health) about the scientific consensus that SSBs are linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Basically, Coke’s focus has been to blame the consumers with constant reminders that if only people would keep up with their exercise it would not matter how many SSBs anyone drank, and Praxis calls foul.
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