Same Deceptions Charged – Minimize Health Risk, Target Kids
A major new law suit, charging Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association with engaging in the same kind of illegal deceptions which forced the tobacco industry to pay out about $250 billion in damages has been filed.
The suit compares Coke’s tactics to the tobacco industry’s past efforts in minimizing the health effects of its products, and targeting children to replenish the ranks of its customers.
This suit builds upon an earlier suit against McDonald’s for likewise engaging in deception about its products, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, whose students put together the action.
It forced the fast food giant to pay over $12 million to settle, and required it to make new disclosures and other major concessions, says Banzhaf.
Subsequently, Banzhaf targeted sugary soft drinks, using legal action to fight so-called “pouring rights” or “Cokes for Kickbacks” contracts where schools are given a commission for promoting what some call “liquid candy.” He was also the first to publicly propose a law suit against the bottlers; a move which eventually resulted in a major agreement by beverage distributors under which tens of millions of students will no longer be able to buy non-diet sodas in public schools.
Banzhaf, who is also credited as the catalyst and strategist behind many of the major legal actions against tobacco companies, has been called “The Law Professor Who Masterminded Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry,” “a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars,” the lawyer “Who’s Leading the Battle Against Big Fat,” and “The Man Big Tobacco and Now Fast Food Love to Hate.”
Banzhaf notes that recently a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling made it easier to succeed in law suits targeting food products for deceptions.
It drove a stake into the heart of a key argument being used by defendants in the so-called “next wave” of class action law suits based upon deceptive and misleading food claims, and provided a strong boost to dozens of such actions now pending, says Banzhaf. That law suit also involved Coca-Cola.
Coca Cola’s argument that any claims of food misrepresentation under state law are preempted by FDA regulations related to food safety were resoundingly quashed.
More specifically, Coke’s argument that its Pomegranate Blueberry juice blend wasn’t illegally misleading under the federal Lanham Act – even though it contained only an eyedropper (0.6%) of such juices – because it met FDA labeling requirements which allegedly trump state consumer protection laws, was unanimously rejected by all of the justices, liberal as well as conservative., observes Banzhaf.
Now that the high court has held – as it did in 2009 regarding drug labeling – that claims based upon faulty food labeling are not preempted by federal regulations, it opens the door even wider to what many corporate lawyers have labeled the “next wave” of class action law suits, says law professor Banzhaf, who has championed the concept that using legal action against many problems – including smoking and obesity – is far more effective than health warnings and other educational campaigns.