Workers unload bottles of Coca-Cola from a truck. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Workers unload bottles of Coca-Cola from a truck. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

William Lamar, the senior pastor at D.C.’s historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, is tired of presiding over funerals for parishioners who died of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

So on Thursday, he and another prominent African American pastor filed suit against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association, claiming soda manufacturers knowingly deceived customers about the health risks of sugar-sweetened beverages — at enormous cost to their communities.

The complaint, filed in D.C. Superior Court Thursday on behalf of the pastors and the Praxis Project, a public health group, alleges that Coke and the ABA ran an intentional campaign to confuse consumers about the causes of obesity.

Lamar and Delman Coates, the pastor at Maryland’s Mount Ennon Baptist Church, claim soda marketing has made it more difficult for them to protect the health of their largely black, D.C.-based parishioners.

Their case is similar to another suit that was filed, and later withdrawn, by the same legal team in California last January.

The lawsuit marks a break with tradition for African American and Latino community groups who have been reliable allies of Big Soda for years in policy fights across the country — despite overwhelming evidence that the harms of drinking soda impact their communities disproportionately.

Obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and lower-extremity amputations are all far higher among people of color than among whites. These communities also drink more soda — and are exposed to more soda advertising.

“It’s become really clear to me that we’re losing more people to the sweets than to the streets,” said Coates, who said he has seen members of his congregation give their infants bottles filled with sugary drinks. “There’s a great deal of misinformation in our communities, and I think that’s largely a function of these deceptive marketing campaigns.”

In a statement, Coca-Cola dismissed the pastors’ charges and the merits of the earlier lawsuit in California, which lawyers say they withdrew 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 deployed by tobacco companies.

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SOURCE: Caitlin Dewey 
The Washington Post