This blog post was co-authored by Javier Saladich, a Summer Research Intern at the O’Neill Institute. Javier is a third year law student at ESADE Business and Law School in Barcelona, Spain.
A Coca-Cola Foundation advertisement
Last month, two prominent African American pastors and a public health organization sued a major soda manufacturer and soda industry body, alleging that the defendants have misled the public about the health impacts of sugary drinks in breach of consumer protection laws. This post considers the impact of soda consumption on the health of Americans and the potential impacts of litigation against an industry that has prioritized profits over health.
An epidemic of overweight and obesity in the United States
In its quest to maximize profits, the soda industry (like Big Tobacco) has increasingly targeted specific communities. Predominately African American and lower-income neighborhoods bear a disproportionately heavy burden of ads for sugary drinks and junk food. In addition to targeted marketing, health disparities are exacerbated by limited access to, and affordability of, healthy and nutritious food options in many communities.
Fighting back: new litigation challenges Big Soda’s marketing strategy
Regardless of the final outcome, the lawsuit has brought national attention to Big Soda’s marketing strategies as well as the disproportionate burden of diet-related disease experienced by African Americans. As highlighted by Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post, it “marks a break with tradition for African American and Latino community groups who have been reliable allies of Big Soda for years in policy fights across the country.”
The plaintiffs’ claims resemble litigation brought by several US state attorneys general against major cigarette companies, which resulted in the largest civil settlement in US history, including payments to cover the cost of tobacco-related health care, the public disclosure of millions of tobacco industry documents, and restrictions on tobacco advertising. Ultimately, we may look back on Lamar et al v. Coca-Cola et al. as the beginning of a long, litigious battle against the soda industry, reminiscent of hard-fought and impactful litigation against the tobacco industry.
The views reflected in this expert column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.