In a statement, Coca-Cola dismissed the pastors’ charges and the merits of the earlier lawsuit in California, which lawyers say they withdrew in order to refile with the new plaintiffs.
“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.”
This suit, much like the prior one in California, argues that the beverage industry has deceived consumers about the unique link between soda consumption and diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes using messaging tactics similar to those once used by tobacco companies.
According to the complaint, Coca-Cola executives have repeatedly invested millions of dollars in research, sponsored blog posts and advertising campaigns intended to disprove or confuse the link between soda consumption and disease. The company’s ads and its executives, as well as a number of compensated nutrition bloggers, have also advanced the argument that lack of exercise is primarily responsible for the obesity epidemic and that the calories consumed in soda can be offset easily by increasing physical activity.
In 2013, Coca-Cola developed a 30-second prime-time TV ad, called “Be OK,” that claimed a brief walk, a single “victory dance” or a brief laughing spell were sufficient to burn the 140 calories in a can of Coke.
Coca-Cola Senior Vice President Katie Bayne also famously told a USA Today reporter in 2012 that “there is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity.”
The suit argues that science shows otherwise: There is, in fact, a well-established link between soda consumption and obesity, though the exact mechanism of that link is not well understood. A 20-year study of 120,000 adults, published in 2011 in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that people who drank an extra soda per day gained more weight over time than those who did not. Other large-scale studies have found that soda-drinkers have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and gout.