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Citing Deceptive Marketing Practices, Pastors Sue Coca-Cola, Beverage Industry

In a sharp departure from the traditional relationship between community groups and soda makers, two pastors recently sued Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association, claiming soda companies deceive customers about the health risks associated with sugary drinks.

For example, diseases such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and lower-extremity amputations are more prevalent in people of color than among whites. People of color also drink more soda and are exposed to more soda advertising.

According to the complaint, as reported by the Washington Post, Coca-Cola executives have invested millions of dollars in research, sponsored blog posts and advertising campaigns “intended to disprove or confuse the link between soda consumption and disease.”

William Lamar, the senior pastor at D.C.’s historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, told the Post that he’s tired of presiding over funerals for parishioners who died of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Along with Delman Coates, the pastor at Maryland’s Mount Ennon Baptist Church, Pastor Lamar claims soda marketing has made it harder to protect the health of their largely black parishioners.

This new lawsuit against the soda industry follows an earlier lawsuit that was filed in Californa and later withdrawn.

Their case is similar to another suit that was filed, and later withdrawn, by the same legal team in California last January.

The lawsuit represents a change in tradition of African American and Latino community groups being reliable allies to large soda companies in policy disputes despite mounting evidence that their communities are disproportionately impacted by the drinking of soda.

For example, back in 2013 when the American Beverage Association sued to prevent New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s soda tax, both the NAACP and Hispanic Federation filed a brief in support of it.

One piece of evidence to establish a link between soda consumption and obesity was a 20-year study of 120,000 adults, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011, which found that people who drank an extra soda per day gained more weight over time than those who did not.

Coca-Cola dismissed the pastors’ charges in a statement. “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.”