Tags: Soda | Legal | War | Soon | Begin

Soda Legal War Soon to Begin

Thursday, 08 December 2005 12:00 AM

Trial lawyers who made a fortune from lawsuits against tobacco companies are moving on to a new potential payday: Suing soft drink companies over the sale of sugary beverages in schools.

Stephen Gardner, staff lawyer for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and half a dozen other lawyers – several of them veterans of successful tobacco litigation – plan to file a lawsuit in the next few months seeking to ban sales of sugary beverages in schools.

Gardner argues that soda and other sugary beverages are harmful to students' health and that selling those drinks in schools "sends a message that their regular consumption is perfectly fine," according to the New York Times.

The lawsuit is to be filed in Massachusetts, which has strong consumer protection laws, and will name Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and their local bottlers. It will be the first of many such state lawsuits, the attorneys say.

Under Massachusetts' consumer protection law, successful plaintiffs are entitled to $25 per violation, which could mean $25 for each time a student has purchased a soda in a public high school in Massachusetts over the past four years.

Although Gardner said he and the other lawyers have not yet decided whether the group will seek financial damages, they acknowledge that damages could run into the billions.

Three tobacco litigation experts are involved in the suit, the Times reports: Tim Howard, who helped Florida win a $17 billion settlement against tobacco companies in 1997; Stephen A. Sheller, who was involved in a successful $10 billion tobacco class action in Illinois that is now under appeal; and Richard A. Daynard, an associate dean at the Northeastern University School of Law, who has been an adviser to many of the state tobacco lawsuits that led to a $246 billion settlement in 1998.

Almost half of all public schools in the U.S. have exclusive contracts with beverage companies, including 75 percent of high schools and 65 percent of middle schools.

Although these contracts do provide revenue for schools needing cash, one study of public school contracts in Oregon concluded that the money schools receive is not significant and that most of the revenue by far goes to the soft drink companies rather than the schools.

The $92 billion beverage industry, dominated by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, is preparing to battle the lawsuit. Last week, the American Beverage Association – the lobbying group for the beverage industry – released a study that purportedly found that soda sales in schools are not a significant contributor to rising childhood obesity rates.

The study concluded that the average high school student consumes just one 12-ounce non-diet soda a week from school vending machines.

But an earlier study of young people's soft drink consumption by Dr. David S. Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Children's Hospital Boston and an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, found that each additional daily serving of a sugar-sweetened beverage increased the risk of obesity by 60 percent.

The American Beverage Association says there are also studies that show no connection between obesity and soft drink consumption.

In August, the American Beverage Association announced that beverage companies would stop selling soda and other sugary drinks in elementary schools, and would restrict the sale of full-calorie soda in middle schools to after-school hours only.

But attorney Gardner said that the beverage association's policy did not adequately address the sale of beverages in high schools, which is where most purchases occur.

The Massachusetts lawsuit will focus on what it terms "unhealthy" beverages – including full-calorie sodas, sports drinks, iced tea drinks and juice drinks with little fruit juice – sold in high schools, and will argue that such sales constitute unfair and deceptive marketing, according to the Times.

The suit will also claim that the large illuminated Coke and Pepsi machines lining school halls and cafeterias are an "attractive nuisance."

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Trial lawyers who made a fortune from lawsuits against tobacco companies are moving on to a new potential payday: Suing soft drink companies over the sale of sugary beverages in schools. Stephen Gardner, staff lawyer for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and...
Soda,Legal,War,Soon,Begin
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2005-00-08
Thursday, 08 December 2005 12:00 AM
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