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Posts Tagged ‘consumer protection’

New Lawsuit Alleges Coca-Cola, American Beverage Association Deceiving Public About Soda-Related Health Problems

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Despite the scientifically established link between consuming sugar drinks and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, the Coca-Cola Company and its trade association, the American Beverage Association, deceive consumers by denying and obscuring soda’s link to those diseases, according to a lawsuit filed today.

Bringing the action filed today in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia are Reverend William H. Lamar IV, pastor of the historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, DC; Reverend Delman Coates, senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, MD; and the Praxis Project, a nonprofit organization focused on building healthier communities.  Praxis had brought, but soon withdrew, similar litigation against Coke and the ABA in California pending the addition of the new plaintiffs.

“For far too long, Coca-Cola has been convincing people, including children, that soda is a source of fun and happiness and that it is safe to drink,” said Rev. Coates.  “But from my vantage point, Coca-Cola is devastating the African American community by fueling an epidemic of obesity and an epidemic of type 2 diabetes.  I visit hospitals and homes, and officiate at funerals. I routinely encounter blindness, loss of limbs, strokes, and even death.  Efforts to talk about the role of sugar drinks and advertising in these epidemics, including many of my own efforts—are hampered by the effects of Coca-Cola’s deceptive marketing.”

The lawsuit quotes Coca-Cola executive Katie Bayne’s much-publicized statement that “[t]here is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity” as representative of the kind of deception that Coke and the ABA publicly engage in. Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is linked scientifically not only to obesity but also to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal government’s 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,  the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, and numerous other prominent medical and health authorities all acknowledge such links.

Plaintiffs and Andrew Rainer Discuss the Lawsuit

“When industry wanted to sell more cigarettes, it used powerful advertising to make smoking seem glamorous, and it tried to muddy the waters and make it seem as if smoking’s link to lung cancer were in doubt,” said Rev. Lamar.  “Soda might not be smoking, but the tactics of the companies are strikingly similar to me:  Market heavily.  Cast doubt on science.  People need and deserve to know the facts about soda consumption. They need to know that the beautiful bodies seen in Coke commercials are not the norm for regular soda drinkers.  And they need to know about the possibility of lost limbs, blindness, sexual dysfunction, and premature death.”

Coca-Cola and the ABA’s larger advertising campaign attacks the science while promoting lack of exercise as the primary driver of obesity and related epidemics.  The ABA wrote that “the anti-soda campaign misleads people with unsound science,” and that “[A]ll calories are the same regardless of food source,” according to the complaint.  James Quincey, Coca-Cola’s new CEO, claimed in a widely publicized interview that “the experts are clear—the academics, government advisors, diabetes associations … a calorie is a calorie.”

Coke also paid health professionals to promote sugar-sweetened beverages on the Internet, including one dietitian blogger who suggested that an eight-ounce soda could be a healthy snack, like “packs of almonds,” according to the complaint. The complaint also cites the widely reported secret funding by Coca-Cola—$120 million between 2010 and 2015—to scientists and projects that publicly advanced the proposition that “energy balance” is more important than reducing soda consumption.  Meanwhile, advertising campaigns like “Be OK” misleadingly implied that light exercise, such as laughing out loud for 75 seconds, offsets the health effects of Coke consumption, or, in the words of the ABA-funded campaign known as “Mixify,” that some afternoon Frisbee earned players “more” soda.

Coca-Cola’s Deceptive Ad Campaign

Other promotions deceptively advance sugar drinks as a safe form of essential hydration. The complaint again cites Coca-Cola’s Bayne, who claimed that “What our drinks offer is hydration. That’s essential to the human body. We offer great taste and benefits … We don’t believe in empty calories. We believe in hydration.”

“We need to put permanent protections into place that protect kids’ health by shielding them from Coke’s omnipresent and deceptive marketing,” said Praxis Project executive director Xavier Morales.  “It seems to me that Coke plays the long game and wants to hook consumers young. But its marketing and advertising are putting too many Americans, especially children and teens of color—who are twice as likely to see an advertisement for soda—on a trajectory that includes obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  These medical conditions kill or maim. When one in every two Latino and African American youth born since 2000 are expected to get diabetes in their lifetime, we need to stand up and take action.  Praxis is proud to be bringing this lawsuit.”

In Washington, DC, more residents die each year from complications related to obesity than from AIDS, cancer, and homicides combined, according to the city’s health department.

The plaintiffs are represented by Maia Kats, litigation director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest; Andrew Rainer and Mark Gottlieb of the Public Health Advocacy Institute; Daniel B. Edelman of the law firm Katz Marshall and Banks, LLP; and Michael R. Reese of the law firm Reese LLP.  The suit seeks an injunction under the District of Columbia’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act, which protects District residents from improper trade practices.  Such an injunction would stop Coke and the ABA from engaging in the unfair and deceptive marketing of sugar-sweetened drinks—including any direct or implied claim that the drinks do not promote obesity, type 2 diabetes, or cardiovascular disease.

“For decades, the tobacco industry engaged in a systemic campaign of deception to cast doubt on the science connecting smoking to lung cancer,” said Kats.  “Today Coca-Cola and the ABA are conducting their own campaign of deception to hide the science connecting sugar-sweetened beverages to obesity, and obesity-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease.  We seek to protect consumers and to stop the deception.”

The Public Health Advocacy Institute’s litigation director Andrew Rainer, who has tried cases against cigarette companies, said, “Coca-Cola and the ABA have taken not just a page but a whole chapter out of Big Tobacco’s playbook for denying scientific truth.  They claim there is “no science” linking their products to obesity, type 2 diabetes.”



PHAI Joins Center for Science in the Public Interest in Filing Lawsuit Against Coca-Cola for Deceptive Marketing

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

BOSTON – Two non-profits that use litigation as a public health strategy have joined forces in a lawsuit accusing the Coca-Cola Company (“Coke”) along with the American Beverage Association (“ABA”) of misleading the public about the science that links heart disease, obesity, and diabetes to consumption of sugary beverages. For years, the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston and the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, DC relied on civil litigation as a tool to achieve policy change to benefit public health.

Download the Complaint here.

The lawsuit was filed today in federal court in the Northern District of California on behalf of a California non-profit, the Praxis Project, which has had to devote resources to correcting the misleading messages that Coke and the ABA have disseminated. These include spreading the notion that the main cause of obesity is lack of exercise or that “a calorie is a calorie,” regardless of whether it comes from Coke or from kale. The science, in fact, shows that sugary drinks such as Coca-Cola have been found to play a real role in the obesity crisis and that calorie intake is more significant than calorie expenditure in terms of the problems of obesity and overweight. The lawsuit also accuses Coke of failing to comply with its pledge to not market to children.  The action alleges violations of California’s Business and Professional Code as well as negligent and intentional breaches of a special duty to protect the consuming public.

The plaintiffs seek a court order to enjoin Coke and ABA from denying the link between sugary drinks and obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease and to stop any marketing to children.  They also seek a court order for defendants to disclose and publish all research they have directly or indirectly conducted on the impact of sugary beverages on health and the impact of exercise on obesity vs sugary drink consumption.  Furthermore, the plaintiff asks the court to order the defendants to fund a corrective public education campaign and place prominent warnings on their internet sites that consumption of sugary beverages can lead to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

The attorneys for the plaintiff include Maia C. Kats, litigation director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest; Andrew Rainer, litigation director of the nonprofit Public Health Advocacy Institute; and Michael R. Reese of the law firm Reese LLP.

PHAI attorney Andrew Rainer considers this lawsuit to be about defending science from manipulation by those who seek to increase profit at the expense of public health. Rainer says, “the Public Health Advocacy Institute has joined in this complaint in an effort to prevent the distortion of science for corporate gain. Just as the tobacco industry manipulated and distorted science for decades to deny the dangers and addictiveness of cigarettes, and the oil industry works to systematically distort science to deny climate change, Coca Cola and the American Beverage Association are engaged in a campaign to deny the established science linking sugar-sweetened beverages to obesity and diabetes.”

Mark Gottlieb, executive director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, characterizes this filing as, “the tip of the iceberg when it comes to purveyors of sugar-added products seeking to shift all responsibility for health harms to their consumers. Coke pays dietitians to tell consumers things like drinking coke can be a healthy snack and pays scientists to deny that sugary drinks are linked to obesity and then suggests that the main cause of obesity and related disease is lack of exercise. The hypocrisy of suggesting to consumers that burning calories through laughing can offset the harmful effects of drinking soda is no laughing matter. And, yes, Coke really suggested that.”

PHAI’s partner, the Center for Science in the Public Interest included the following bullet points from the complaint in its press release.

The Public Health Advocacy Institute set up its Center for Public Health Litigation in 2014 in order to hold responsible corporate interests that harm public health and defend policies that protect public health.



PHAI’s Gottlieb Discusses New Fantasy Sports Legal Developments on “Broadside” TV Segment

Friday, November 13th, 2015

Mark Gottlieb, the executive director of PHAI, discussed the impact of the Cease and Desist orders issued by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman  to shut down daily Fantasy Sports sites FanDuel and DraftKings in that state as well as related developments in Massachusetts.   This segment of New England Cable News’ “Broadside with Sue O’Connell” aired on November 12, 2015.
(Please excuse any commercial content with video). If video fails to play, click this link.



Stop & Shop Responds to PHAI’s Demands to Prevent Sales of Scratch Tickets to Kids

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

In 2014 and 2015, the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) conducted testing to determine whether kids could purchase lottery tickets from the vending machines located in a number of area supermarkets.  At markets in Cambridge, Somerville, and Arlington, Massachusetts, a teenage tester was easily able to purchase lottery tickets in every attempt.

Massachusetts law expressly prohibits the sale of lottery tickets to “any person under age eighteen.” Yet the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling reports that over two-thirds of teenage boys (aged 14-17) have gambled in the past year, and over half of teenage girls have done so. About a third of these children gambled by playing lottery games.

somerville stop and shop 8-1-15

Stop & Shop lottery vending machine with scanner in Somerville, MA

On March 10, 2015, PHAI sent Stop & Shop a legal demand under Massachusetts’ consumer protection law, on behalf of the father of the teenage purchaser, Cambridge City Councilor Craig Kelley, and on behalf of the national non-profit Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation, seeking steps to prevent children from using the lottery ticket vending machines in the company’s stores. According to the demand letter, selling the tickets to minors is an unfair and deceptive sales practice prohibited by law.

The action drew media attention and led to an editorial in the Boston Globe urging that the problem be addressed.  Representatives from Stop & Shop responded by working with the Massachusetts Lottery Commission to activate drivers’ license scanners in the lottery ticket machines, which operate to confirm that a lottery ticket purchaser is at least 18 years old before the machine will vend a ticket.  Stop & Shop informed PHAI last week that all of its lottery ticket vending machines would have these protections in place by the end of July, 2015.

PHAI staff spot checked Stop & Shop machines in 3 counties and found that its machines will, in fact, not operate without first scanning an adult driver’s license.

Cambridge City Councilor Kelley said he was pleased to see some progress made. “It’s a real problem,” Kelley said. “As a father and as a city councilor, I was truly shocked at how easy it was for a kid to buy tickets from these machines.”

Mark Gottlieb, executive director of PHAI, noted that “While Stop & Shop’s efforts to quickly address the problem are laudable, the vast majority of lottery ticket vending machines in the state don’t have driver’s license scanners. This includes many places like bowling alleys and convenience stores that are frequented by kids.” Gottlieb added that “we will continue to work to prevent sales of scratch tickets to kids through vending machines as a public health policy measure.”



PHAI Releases Major Report on Digital Food Marketing to Youth: Urges State Attorneys General to Act

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

December 19, 2013

The Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) at Northeastern University School of Law, along with our partners at the Center for Digital Democracy and Berkeley Media Studies Group, today releases State Law Approaches to Address Digital Food Marketing to Youth.  It is a first-of-its kind resource that provides an evidence base and action steps grounded in state law.  State attorneys general and other stakeholders in children’s health and privacy can use it to put a stop to troubling digital marketing practices that deceive youth and their parents.

In addition to clear explanations of how digital marketing works and why it poses privacy and health risks to youth, key legal issues for state regulators are explored.  These issues include personal jurisdiction over out-of-state food and beverage marketing and media companies; the interplay of federal and state laws regulating mobile marketing; and the application of state promotions laws to child consumers.

Key findings include:

Senior Staff Attorney, Cara Wilking, who was lead author of the report, noted that, “state attorneys general are in a unique position to leverage state law approaches to stop unfair, deceptive, or otherwise illegal digital marketing of unhealthy foods to our youngest and most vulnerable consumers.”

PHAI’s Executive Director, Mark Gottlieb, added, “there is a general failure to understand the disturbing marketing practices that are becoming commonplace in the digital marketing world. This report goes a long way toward closing the knowledge gap between those using powerful technology to sell junk to kids and those who have the responsibility to protect them.”

State Law Approaches to Address Digital Food Marketing to Youth Report

Support for State Law Approaches to Address Digital Food Marketing to Youth was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations Healthy Eating Research Program (#69293).

 

 



PHAI’s Wilking interviewed in Huff Post for Michele Simon’s “Ask a Food Lawyer” feature

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

WilkingPhoto0913

Cara Wilking

Michele Simon is a public health lawyer specializing in industry marketing and lobbying tactics. She is the author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, and president of Eat Drink Politics, an industry watchdog consulting business.

Ms. Simon asks PHAI’s senior staff attorney, Cara Wilking, about deceptive food marketing to kids, concerns about food industry self-regulation of marketing practices, technical assistance we provide, and what PHAI and lawyers like Cara can contribute to the good food movement.

Access the interview here.

 

 



New study finds McDonald’s and Burger King responsible for 99% of fast-food television ads for kids, suggests industry’s efforts to self-regulate its marketing practices are ineffective

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Fast-food companies emphasize toy giveaways and movie tie-ins rather than food products when marketing to kids on television, which suggests that industry is not abiding by its self-regulatory pledges for child-directed marketing, according to a study co-authored by the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law. The study, “How Television Fast Food Marketing Aimed at Children Compares with Adult Advertisements,” is published in PLOS ONE and found that among ads for children’s meals, toy giveaways appeared in 69 percent of ads and movie tie-ins were used in 55 percent of ads.

“Fast-food companies use free toys and popular movies to appeal to kids and their ads are much more focused on promotions, brands, and logos—not on the food,” said James Sargent, Professor of Pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the lead author of the study. “These are techniques that the companies’ own self-regulatory body calls potentially misleading and it’s a clear sign that they’re not living up to their pledges about marketing to kids.”

Sargent and his colleagues examined all nationally televised ads for children’s meals by leading fast-food restaurants for one year, from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. They compared ads for kids with ads for adults from the same companies to assess whether self-regulatory pledges for food marketing to children had been implemented.

 Key findings include:

Leaders of the food and beverage industry have publicly recognized the need to reform marketing practices targeting children. In 2006, the Council of Better Business Bureaus launched the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), a voluntary pledge by major U.S. food manufacturers to advertise only healthier products to young children. McDonald’s and Burger King participate in the CFBAI. Both companies also have pledged to abide by marketing guidelines set by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, which include a provision stating that food—not toys or other promotions—should be the primary focus of ads directed at kids.

“This study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that there’s a big gap between what industry has promised and what they’re actually doing when it comes to marketing to kids,” said Cara Wilking, J.D. of the Public Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law. “There comes a point when intervention by a regulatory body like the Federal Trade Commission or state Attorneys General is needed to address self-regulatory failures. These findings suggest we’ve reached it with respect to fast food marketing to kids.”

A recent report by the Federal Trade Commission found that among all U.S. food and beverage companies, fast-food companies spent the most on marketing directed at youths ages 2 to 17—more than $714 million in 2009. The report also found that fast-food companies have dramatically increased their spending on television ads and new media targeting kids ages 2 to 11. Further analysis of that report shows while some fast-food restaurants slightly improved the nutritional quality of kids’ meals, the number of child-directed television ads for other higher-calorie meals and menu items more than doubled from 2006 to 2009.

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PHAI Publishes Legal Issue Brief on Digital Viral Food Marketing to Kids

Friday, March 8th, 2013

viral_digital_food_marketing_brief_graphic

Food companies used viral digital marketing tactics, such as “tell-a-friend” web campaigns, to induce children to share e-mail addresses of their friends and spread brand advertising of unhealthy foods among their peers.  Even very young children are targeted by these campaigns, which may be considered unfair and deceptive and in violation of state consumer protection laws.

PHAI has prepared a legal issue brief on this topic for state attorneys general as well as stakeholders in children’s health and privacy.  The brief explains the tactics that are used and suggests ways that they can be addressed, particularly under state law.

This work was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research Program (#69293).



PHAI joins the Center for Digital Democracy and others in complaint to FTC over children’s websites’ “Tell-A-Friend” tactics

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Today the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston has joined a coalition of children’s, health, privacy and consumer advocacy organizations in a complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission against several children’s websites for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The offending children’s websites use a “Tell-A-Friend” feature to induce children to provide e-mail addresses of their peers.  The websites involved include McDonald’s HappyMeal.com, General Mills’ ReesesPuffs.com and TrixWorld.com, Doctor’s Associates’ SubwayKids.com, Viacom’s Nick.com, and Turner Broadcasting’s CartoonNetwork.com.

The Tell-A-Friend tactic uses a game or other child-targeted activity as a way to engage children in an immersive  marketing experience and then directs users to share the activity with friends by entering multiple e-mail addresses.  Those children will receive an e-mail that may or may not appear to be from their friend urging them to go to a child-targeted marketing website. This viral marketing tactic creates and reinforces brand awareness providing value to the advertiser.  All of this occurs without prompts for any parental consent and, in McDonald’s case, may involve distributing a photograph of the child taken by webcam to recipients of the e-mail message.

Mark Gottlieb, Executive Director of PHAI, noted that, “COPPA was enacted by Congress to protect children under 13 from divulging any personal information to commercial interests on the Internet without the consent of a parent. By inducing young kids to provide the e-mail addresses of their peers, the companies involved here are certainly violating the spirit of COPPA and, it would appear, the letter of the law as well through these “Tell-A-Friend” practices.  This is something that state attorneys general could also investigate under their consumer protection authority because these tactics are unfair and deceptive.”

In addition to the Center for Digital Democracy which has published the complaints on its website, PHAI was joined by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, Center for Media Justice, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children Now, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, ChangeLab Solutions, Global Action Project, Media Literacy Project, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Public Citizen, and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University.



PHAI Releases New Resources to Use Law to Fight Junk Food Marketing to Kids

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Food and beverage marketing targeting children is a major focus of the food and beverage industry because, as the Institute of Medicine’s report on the subject bluntly declared, “marketing works.”

Deceptive and unfair marketing to promote high-calorie low-nutrient foods and beverages affect parent-consumer food purchasing decisions and induce demand among children for products that contribute to obesity and overweight. Such marketing campaigns can run afoul of an array of legal authorities that provide consumer protection from such practices.

PHAI conducted extensive 50-state research examining the provisions of state consumer protection laws of the United States that prohibit unfair, deceptive or unconscionable sales and marketing campaigns. Depending on the state, these consumer protection laws may be used by stakeholders in child health, including parents, as well as state attorneys general to stop unfair or deceptive marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and beverage products linked to overweight and obesity in children and adolescents.

The research focuses on the legal limits of: (1) direct marketing to children and teens in an effort to get them to use their own spending money to purchase food products for themselves; and (2) “pester power” marketing that targets children in an effort to get them to persuade their parents into buying products for them. To make it easy to find and compare state consumer protection laws, we have created an  interactive map linking to consumer protection law profiles of every state and the District of Columbia.

Key findings of our state consumer protection research also are summarized in a report and a legal issue brief:

A clear understanding of consumer protection rights and the sources of their legal authority will provide guidance for policymakers and advocates for children’s health who seek to curb these practices without the need for new legislation and regulatory measures.

Consumer Protection Map

Click to vist our interactve consumer protection map

This research was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research Program (#66968).




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Northeastern University School of Law