Yesterday, two very prominent black pastors in the D.C. area filed suit against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association. In their lawsuit, filed in D.C. Superior Court, accusations are made that the organizations knowingly deceive their black, and minority, consumers regarding the health risks of sugar-sweetened beverages. These drinks are the cause of black communities high rate of disease, diabetes and stroke, they argue.
William Lamar, senior pastor at D.C.’s historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, told reporters that he is tired of presiding over funerals for church members dead from heart disease, diabetes and strokes.
Pastor Delman Coates, of Maryland’s Mount Ennon Baptist Church, joins pastor Lamar in blaming soda marketing for the poor health of his D.C. parishioners, who are primarily black.
Joined in the complaint is the Praxis Project, a public health group, who also alleges Coke and the beverage association intentional run campaigns to confuse their minority consumers about the causes of obesity. It should be noted that this same legal team filed a very similar lawsuit in California last year. That case was later withdrawn.
“It’s become really clear to me that we’re losing more people to the sweets than to the streets,” said Coates. The pastor says that things are so bad, he has witnessed some members of his congregation flock nursing their infant children with bottles filled with the soft drink. “There’s a great deal of misinformation in our communities, and I think that’s largely a function of these deceptive marketing campaigns.”
There is no reason to question Pastor Coates’ example of how much some of his parishioners rely on Coca-Cola, but there is no example of an ad saying that feeding an infant Coke is a good idea. Bad parenting is not a reason to be awarded millions, if not billions, of dollars.
Lawyer’s for Coca-Cola immediately dismissed the merits of this case, saying “The allegations here are likewise legally and factually meritless, and we will vigorously defend against them,” the statement said. “The Coca-Cola Company understands that we have a role to play in helping people reduce their sugar consumption.”
Similar to the lawsuit filed almost 18 months ago, this suit claims intent to deceive consumers for profit. The lawyers argue beverage industry execs consciously choose to hide the link between soda consumption and diseases such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Some studies have shown that obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and lower-extremity amputations are all far higher among blacks, and minorities, than among whites. Due to higher soft drink consumption, and ads targeted at these groups, lawyers are trying to create a direct link, and financial responsibility.
Even though there is increased awareness of the dangers of consuming too much sugar, from any product on a daily basis, and the beverage industry working to spread the word, these pastors, and other minority groups, want the beverage industry to suffer.
At no point is the issue of personal responsibility get discussed, instead of corporate responsibility. Maybe that is because in a litigious society, going after multi-billion dollar companies, and industries, is a lot more lucrative.
There is a lot of precedent of groups going after companies with deep pockets, but there is little proof that it makes the lives of people in their community better. The lawyers get big pay days, the plaintiff who claims to represent the whole gets money and the supposedly disaffected people end up with not much, if anything. This case may make it to trial, but at this time, there is no offering of a solution.
Do the pastors want fewer ads, a big warning label like the ones the tobacco industry puts on their product or the product to be pulled from the shelves all together? The harm of cigarette smoking is well known, yet still about 1 in 5 blacks smoke. Even though that number is close to the same as whites, Hispanics are much lower at closer to 1 in 10, blacks smoke three times menthol cigarettes than whites. According to the American Lung Association, “The menthol in cigarettes has been found to make it both easier to start smoking and harder to quit.”
Less ads, more information and societal pressures do not work unless the individual buys in. That is the beauty, and risk, that comes with living in a free society.