If the Forces of Disapproval ever tire of beating up on Wal-Mart, they’ll need a new business to blame for the world’s not being everything it ought. George Will thinks Coca-Cola might fill the bill (“Liberalism as Condescension”, syndicated/RealClearPolitics, Sept. 14).
Commentary on soda-tax proposals that’s equally applicable to the obesity litigation wars:
…soda, by itself, isn’t making us fat. According to numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, regular soda consumption has been falling every year since 1998, but at the same time obesity has skyrocketed. In 2004, we actually drank less soda per person than in 1995, long before obesity was making headlines.
(Sara Cseresnyes and Andrew Chamberlain, “Soda Tax the Wrong Way to Help Curb Obesity”, Denver Post, Jul. 21, reprinted at Tax Foundation site) (via Radley Balko, who adds, “Yep. In fact, the beverage that has by far seen the largest increase in consumption since about 1980 is bottled water. Diet soda is second.”) Related: Lorraine Heller, “The Obesity Blame Game”, Beverage Daily, Aug. 7, and reader feedback at that publication.
More skirmishing in preparation for the expected lawsuit against soft-drink vendors over sales in Massachusetts schools (see Dec. 5, Dec. 7, Feb. 7, etc.), via a Boston Globe editorial (“Vending against obesity”, Jan. 30):
In advance of the suit, Washington lawyer John Banzhaf sent an e-mail to 50-100 school committee members in Massachusetts ”to warn of your inevitable involvement in these law suits as a named party or otherwise…”
A couple of years back, Banzhaf threatened to sue the Seattle school district for renewing a $400,000 vending-machine contract with Coca-Cola (Jul. 3, 2003). Prof. Banzhaf’s other doings, which have ensured him regular appearances on this site, include proposing lawsuits against parents of obese children and against doctors who fail to warn their obese patients about overeating (Dec. 3, 2004).
My op-ed on the litigation against Big Cola (see Feb. 2) draws an L.A. Times reader letter (Feb. 7). Also welcome Andrew Sullivan readers (Jan. 27). More by Sullivan: “Hey, these adverts are making me fat”, The Times (U.K.), Jan. 29; blog posts including Jan. 25 and Jan. 26. And see Philip Wallach, “There Are Deeper Pockets than ‘Big Soda'”, The American Enterprise, Dec. 15; John Luik, “Sponge Bob, Wide Pants?”, TCS Daily, Jan. 25; and Rogier van Bakel, Jan. 23.
American children are now gaining weight even as they watch somewhat less commercial television than previous generations did. One study estimated that children saw about 15 percent fewer TV ads in 2003 than their counterparts did in 1994. Alas, that does not mean today’s kids are playing outside more. They simply have many more commercial-free alternatives such as premium cable, tapes and DVDs, and video and computer games.
Another unfortunate fact for advocates of regulating food advertising is that their pet idea has already been done to the max – that is, in the form of outright bans of ads targeting children – in places such as Sweden and Quebec. The obesity rate of Swedish children differs little from that of British children, however. The same is true in Quebec vs. other Canadian provinces.
The plaintiffs say it’s not about the money. I believe them. This lawsuit, which CSPI and its allies plan to file under a Massachusetts consumer protection statute prohibiting “unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” is really about censorship. By threatening onerous damages, CSPI aims to achieve through the courts what it has unsuccessfully demanded from legislators and regulators for decades: a ban on food advertising aimed at children.
Earlier, Sullum reported on the CDC venturing into West Virginia to stalk obesity “vectors” (“Watching the Detectives”, syndicated/Reason, Aug. 26).
I’ve got a piece in the new issue of the Manhattan Institute magazine City Journal examining the emerging barrage of obesity suits against soft drink companies (Walter Olson, “Taking Cola to Court”, City Journal, Winter). For more, see Dec. 5 and Dec. 7. If you’re in search of a listing of all my writings in City Journal, incidentally, it’s here.
The New York Times finally weighs in on the impending case against Big Soda (see Dec. 5). Maybe it took them longer than expected to get the spin in favor of the suit just right. Prof. Daynard’s role gets somewhat downplayed this time around, the Center for Science in the Public Interest looms larger, and the most priceless bit comes at the end:
One detail yet to be decided is whether the group will seek financial damages. Under Massachusetts’s consumer protection law, successful plaintiffs are entitled to $25 per violation, which could mean $25 for every time a student has purchased a soda in a public high school in Massachusetts over the past four years.
Mr. Gardner said he and the other lawyers realize that damages could run into the billions. “We haven’t decided about this yet,” he said. “We don’t want this to come off looking like a greedy-lawyer lawsuit.”
“Richard Daynard, a Massachusetts law professor who made his name working as a consultant on class actions against tobacco companies, is part of a broad effort by both private attorneys and nonprofit groups to sue Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and other soft drink companies for selling high-calorie drinks in schools.” (Caroline Wilbert, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nov. 29; Caroline E. Mayer, “Lawyer coalition targets soft drink manufacturers”, Washington Post/Detroit News, Dec. 4; Todd Zywicki and vast comment section; Colossus of Rhodey). In the Boston Globe magazine, contributor Michael Blanding writes supportively of “a national legal movement to make soft drinks the next tobacco” (Oct. 30).
For more on the search for ways to blame business for our collective struggle with the waistline, see many entries in our Eat, Drink and Be Merry section. More on caffeine “addiction” theories: Aug. 18-20, 2000, Jun. 1, 2004. More on vending machine suits: Jul. 3, 2003. And as regular readers know, we’ve been covering Prof. Daynard’s activities for a long time; see Apr. 21-23, 2000 and many others.
Food, 2003: “Give me my million“, Jun. 20-22; “Lawsuit’s demand: stop selling Oreos to kids“, May 13 (& update May 16-18: suit dropped); “Fast-food opinion roundup“, Mar. 25-30; “They’ll be back for seconds“, Feb. 19; “Claim: marriage impaired by tough bagel“, Feb. 3; “Judge tosses McDonald’s obesity case“, Jan. 23 (& Jan. 27-28); “U.K.: coercive campaign to constrain Cadbury“, Jan. 20; “Anti-diet activist hopes to sue Weight Watchers“, Jan. 13-14.
2002: “California’s hazardous holiday” (acrylamide), Dec. 27-29; “Scourge of the Super-Size order“, Nov. 7; “WHO demands pretzel de-salting by law“, Nov. 1-3; Letter to the editor, Oct. 23; “Personal responsibility roundup“, Sept. 12; “Fat suits, cont’d“, Jul. 26-28; “‘Ailing man sues fast-food firms’“, Jul. 25; “Sin-suit city“, Jun. 10; “McArdle on food as next-tobacco“, May 27 (& Jun. 3-4); “Nader credibility watch” (calls fast-food restaurants “weapons of mass destruction”), May 24-26; “The mystery of the transgenic corn“, May 14-15; “‘Targeting “big food”‘“, Apr. 29-30; “‘Woman sues snack food company for spoiling diet’“, Apr. 23-24; “No more restaurant doggie bags“, Mar. 20-21; “Fast-food roundup“, Mar. 11; “King Cake figurine menace averted“, Feb. 1-3; “McMouse story looking dubious“, Jan. 25-27; “Life imitates parody: ‘Whose Fault Is Fat?‘”, Jan. 23-24. “‘Hot-dog choking prompts lawsuit’“, Jan. 2-3.
2001: “There’ll always be a California” (chocolate and Prop 65), Dec. 4; Letter to the editor (Wisc. exempts lutefisk from toxic-substance status), Nov. 29; “Disposable turkey pan litigation“, Nov. 23-25; “‘Diabetic German judge sues Coca-Cola for his health condition’” (candy bars too), Nov. 18; “‘Baskin-Robbins lawsuit puts family in dis-flavor’“, Aug. 2; “‘Couple sues over flaming Pop-Tart’“, July 30; “Feeling queasy?” (E. coli), July 27-29; “‘Man sues Rite Aid over stale jelly bean’“, July 20-22; “By reader acclaim: ‘Vegetarian sues McDonald’s over meaty fries“, May 4-6; “Woman settles hot pickle suit with McDonald’s“, April 16 (& Oct. 10, 2000); “Putting the ‘special’ in special sauce” (alleged rat in Big Mac), March 29.
2000: “You deserve a beak today” (McDonald’s chicken case), Dec. 6.
1999: “Are they kidding, or not-kidding?” (proposal for suits against makers of fattening foods), Nov. 15; “Toffee maker sued for tooth irritation“, Nov. 5-7; “More things you can’t have” (unpasteurized cider), Sept. 27; “Not just our imagination” (calls for class actions against fast food, meat industry), Sept. 25-26; “Taco Bell not liable for Ganges purification pilgrimage“, Aug. 30.
Beverages: “Litigation good for the country?” (Carl T. Bogus), Aug. 19, 2002; “British judge rejects hot-drink suits“, Mar. 29-31, 2002 (& Aug. 10, 2000); “‘Diabetic German judge sues Coca-Cola for his health condition’“, Nov. 18, 2001; “‘Group sues Starbucks over tea ingredient’“, Sept. 10; “By reader acclaim” (maker of cup holder), Jan. 11, 2001; “‘Court says warning about hot coffee unnecessary’” (Nevada Supreme Court), July 18, 2000; “Now it’s hot chocolate“, April 4; “Next on the class-action agenda: liquor?“, March 22, 2000; & see Sept. 10, 2001. For burns from hot beverages that were under the control of the complainant, see also personal responsibility page.